BETTYE LAVETTE  -  Things Have Changed

Verve (UK) 6276785

Things Have Changed; It Ain’t Me Babe; Political World; Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight; Seeing The Real You At Last; Mama You Been On My Mind; Ain’t Talkin’; The Times They Are A-Changin’; What Was It You Wanted; Emotionally Yours; Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others); Going Going Gone

Since the new millennium, Bettye LaVette’s star - and star status - has continued to rise and, now in 2018, it has reached it’s highest peak (at least, to date), as the lady joins the elite, not to mention historical, ranks of artists to be signed to the legendary Verve label.  For her Verve debut, Bettye has followed the path of her material of recent years in that song choices have principally been taken from the works of contemporary writers and/or those from a white rock or folk background.  However, on this occasion, she has concentrated on the songs of just one source, Bob Dylan but, being Bettye - aided and abetted by her husband, musician Kevin Kiley - the selections ultimately picked are hardly the most familiar to all and sundry, only ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’, ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ and, thanks to a 1991 version by the O’Jays, ‘Emotionally Yours’, being already familiar to yours truly who, whilst an admirer of Dylan’s songwriting, has never been enamoured by his vocalising and thus tended to steer clear of much of his output.  Production of the set is handled by featured drummer, Steve Jordan, whose work goes back to playing in Stevie Wonder’s band when still a teenager, working with the Blues Brothers and currently being a member of the John Meyer trio, whose fellow member, Pino Palladino, is the album’s bass player.  Joining them are ex-Dylan guitarist,  Larry Campbell, Leon Pendarvis - who has graced a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of singers’ recordings -  and Gil Goldstein, while such notables as Keith Richards, Trombone Shorty and Ivan Neville feature on certain tracks, viz ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ and ‘Political World’ for Richards, who takes a solo on the latter and ‘’What Was It You Wanted’ in the case of Shorty and Neville.  And so to those tracks themselves... and we open with the ‘Things Have Changed’ title number.  Originally featured on the soundtrack to the film, ‘Wonder Boys’, Bettye’s approach is (naturally) grittier and it makes for an impactful opener and very much a contrast to ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ which follows and which she turns into a slow, much more meaningful version than the original.  Bettye has already indicated elsewhere that ‘Political World’ could easily have been written as a backdrop to the current state of affairs in the US and with lyrics including “Wisdom is thrown in jail” and “Next day could be your last” it’s not hard to understand why.  However, where Dylan rather threw away the words by taking the song at unnecessarily high speed, Bettye slows it down a tad and makes for a far funkier performance.  And so to ‘Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight’ and the goose bumps start as the lady emotes and pleads over Leon Pendarvis’ gentle piano and Steve Jordan’s equally understated drumwork.  Once again it’s a far cry from Dylan’s original (from his 1983 album, ‘Infidels’) and this unique interpretation also involves such lyrical changes as Bettye is wont to do.  Things move up to midtempo for ‘Seeing The Real You At Last’, nicely flowing and, if the verb ‘relaxed’ can ever be used in connection with her, that’s it!  I really hope Bob Dylan listens carefully to this album as it is such an object lesson as to how he wasted his own lyrics in performance.  Witness ‘Mama You Been On My Mind’, written by Dylan to a short-lived girlfriend, which here is sung the (tender) way it should be - and then some, as Bettye works her lyrics into a re-write as a dedication to her own mother.  More goose bumps and surely a Bettye in concert show-stopper.  The Firey String Company - a quartet of ladies - add their accompaniment to ‘Ain’t Talkin’’, another downtempo piece with the most haunting of atmosphere.  Drums drive ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ and all that really remains of Dylan’s work are the basic lyrics.  Maybe this is where the unfamiliar works score as this is so well known that it’s going to take a lot of listens to get me into this one but there has to be one little stumbling block at least.  (The other is the chugging, rocky ‘Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others’ but I’m warming to that one!)  The percussion beats behind ‘What Was It You Wanted’ - like ‘Political World’, from Dylan’s 1989 ‘Oh Mercy’ album - and the featured Trombone Shorty on... trombone and Ivan Neville’s clavinet playing.  ‘Emotionally Yours’ is perhaps the most tuneful of all the melodies and, as ever, it brings out the very best in Bettye as she is unsurpassable when it comes to a deep ballad.  Rounding off yet another A-One set is ‘Going Going Gone’, actually a song that even Dylan did justice to and Ms LaVette more than matches his treatment while throwing in that extra intensity.  Larry Campbell’s pedal steel guitar adds to the mournfulness of the piece and the whole leaves one totally drained.  A superb closer that will doubtless follow that position in concerts to come.

review posted 1/3/18