Bettye LaVette - Wakarusa Music Festival

2008 Artist Lineup

Bettye LaVette

There’s a space in American music where country meets soul, where elements of blues, folk, pop, jazz, gospel and R&B meld in seamless alchemy, where genre boundaries are ultimately not very meaningful. For my money, the best of that music is rooted somewhere around two or three in the morning, when all is quiet, one’s emotional guard is down and the musicians are able to drive the voodoo down, getting at the essence of what it is to be human. This is a space that is all too rarely accessed in most contemporary recordings, yet it is a space that Bettye LaVette returns to again and again on “I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise”. The result is a record of majesty, richness and depth, of naked, raw, visceral emotion, a record that will raise the hairs on the back of the neck of any fully alive, blood pumping, breathing human being. It is also a record that reflects the wisdom and musical acumen acquired over a forty-three year career by a song stylist par excellence. Who is Bettye LaVette you ask? The simple answer is Ms. LaVette is one of the greatest soul singers in American music history, possessed of an incredibly expressive voice that one moment will exude a formidable level of strength and intensity and the next will appear vulnerable, reflective, reeking of heartbreak. Unfortunately, it says much about the vagaries of the popular music industry that, although LaVette has been recording for over four decades, up to this point she has remained criminally unknown. It wouldn’t be until 1982, twenty years after her debut forty-five, that Bettye finally saw the release of her first album, the Steve Buckingham-produced Tell Me a Lie. Cut in Nashville, again with the Memphis Horns, and released by Motown, the album’s lead single, the Hi-influenced “Right in the Middle (Of Falling in Love),” clawed its way to #35 on the r&b charts. Save for a stunning cover of Etta James’ “Damn Your Eyes,” issued on cassette by Bar/None in 1997, and a handful of recordings for Ian Levine’s Motor City Soul label, that was the end of Bettye’s recording career until her storied comeback after Petard’s decision to release Souvenirs. Subsequent CDs have included the live Let Me Down Easy–In Concert, issued by the Dutch Munich label, and 2003’s A Woman Like Me, released on Blues Express. The latter helped Bettye win the coveted W.C. Handy Award in 2004 for “Comeback Blues Album of the Year” as well as the Living Blues critic pick as “Best Female Blues Artist of 2004.” “I’m a soul singer,” concurs Bettye. “If I did an aria, it would be being done by a soul singer. I don’t know how to sing any other way. If it’s me and my singing you like, this is what I’m singing today.” The result is a blessing to us all. -Rob Bowman, Anti Records

Mulberry Mountain :: Ozark, Arkansas
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