But LaVette's riding a good track these days. Newly signed to the adventuresome Anti Records, she's made a stellar album of songs by women songwriters everyone from Sinéad O'Connor to Joan Armatrading to Dolly Parton. (She sang Parton's "Little Sparrow" for the Letterman appearance and took the plaintive simplicity of the song to a startling intersection of wisdom and rage.) She bravely personalizes Lucinda Williams's classic "Joy," filling it with the places of her own life: the Motor City, Muscle Shoals, even West Orange, New Jersey, where LaVette now lives with her husband, an art glass collector and blues musician. The band she tours with features some of Detroit's finest musicians: Bill Farris on guitar, Pat Prouty on bass, and Darryl Pierce on drums. And Ann Arbor's own Al Hill has been her musical director and keyboardist for the past three years.
When you see Bettye LaVette at the Ark, sit as close as you can. You don't just hear a LaVette song you watch it. She interprets, inhabits, flays, and lays bare each phrase, each word. It's heavy stuff, not pretty at all, but beautiful, stunning. LaVette's like Lady Macbeth on Cass Avenue on a dark night. She walks through the hard stuff so we don't have to.
[Review published December 2005]