Author Archive for: ‘SteveMurray’


Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette
Freight and Salvage, Berkeley, California, April 19, 2019

Bettye LaVette may be one of the luckiest performers in show biz. At 72 she’s signed to a new record deal at Universal, her first in 30 years, and released a new CD of Bob Dylan tunes which she previewed at the first of two sold out shows. Luck for Bettye is talent, perseverance and opportunity paying off and she honors that throughout her exciting, powerfully intense set. In interpreting the songs of Dylan, LaVette has added another notch on her legendary status as the queen of soul.

Opening with the wry “Things Have Changed”, LaVette begins with Dylan’s lyric and infuses them with decades of memories of regrets, lost loves, bitterness at social inequality and a depth of emotion that swells from deep inside her soul. Reinterpretation is a large part of LaVette’s phenomenal resurgence, spurred on by an invitation to honor The Who at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2008. She’s recorded songs by Pink Floyd, The Stones and of course, The Who and now puts her indelible stamp on Dylan’s prose.

With Bettye’s raspy, world-weary vocals, she can tear into the heart of Dylan’s “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight”, a breakup tune in which the narrator confesses his fear of falling apart should the relationship end. Same with her soulful rendering of “Mama, You Been on My Mind”, altering some of the lyrics to fit her very intimate take. Backed by her hard driving rock band, who she joked were younger than her grandson, LaVette’s music takes on an intensity that compliments her hard-edged howls of pain and torment. “Going, Going, Gone” seems written directly for her. When she wails the lyrics “I been hangin’ on threads, I been playin’ it straight, Now, I’ve just got to cut loose, before it gets late, So I’m going, I’m going, I’m gone”, you can feel the weight of the world crushing down on her small frame.

It’s that kind of authenticity that LaVette brings to every Dylan composition. Where Dylan is arrogant, detached and angry, LaVette is genuine, vulnerable and deeply touching. The closest she comes to a literal interpretation is of Dylan’s catalog of troubles “Political World”, as prophetic today as when it was written in 1989.  Seeing a master like LaVette ply her trade is a great honor, satisfying on many levels. She recognizes her new-found success and is grateful for her ‘fifth reincarnation’. She closes her shows with an a cappella cover of Sinead O’Connor’s “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” and when she breathes her gratitude into the last line, you know she’s content – “I have all that I requested, and I do not want what I haven’t got”.