Bettye Lavette ‘Worthy’ (Cherry Red) CD/LP + Deluxe Edition CD+DVD 4/5

betty-lavetteOne of soul music’s true divas and with a career spanning some five decades, Bettye Lavette is in a rich vein of form at present and this latest offering, her fifth album in the last ten years, fits like a silky glove into the rootsy Americana side of soul that Mavis Staples and Candi Staton have carved out during the last decade. For those unfamiliar with Lavette’s work, she first came to prominence in the 1960s with some gritty southern soul 45s and then in the late 1970s scored an unexpected soulful disco hit before leaving mainstream activity. Enlisting Joe Henry as producer was a master stroke and this is where the roots combination of soul, country and blues comes into its own and unsurprisingly the album has been receiving heavy airplay on various musical radio formats. A well rounded selection of songs takes on board James Brown, Dylan, Lennon and McCartney and the Stones among others, yet still comes out sounding distinctively like Lavette alone. One of the writer’s favourite interpretations here is actually a Joe Henry composition, ‘Stop’, which is a groove-laden ditty with acoustic gospel-infused piano and an achingly slow accompaniment from the four piece band and Bettye Lavette excels on the soul-blues repertoire. Another winner is the final number, ‘Worthy’, which is earthy and the soulful delivery of the singer is matched only by the lovely guitar solo. While some might argue that Lavette’s vocal range is not what it once was, within the ballad and mid-tempo territory she is almost without equal and the subtle intimacy of her balladry is showcased wonderfully on the Beatles’ ‘Wait’, originally on the ‘Rubber Soul’ album. A funky rendition of Dylan’s 1990 album song ‘Unbelievable’ works well and only an overtly uptempo blues-rock take on the Stones’ ‘Complicated’ seems somewhat out of place here, but nonetheless adds to the varied choice on offer. There is even a dramatic a cappella version of Sinead O’Connor’s ‘I do not want what I haven’t got’. Devotees of Bettye Lavette will be interested to know that the deluxe edition of the CD also includes a full DVD of the singer live in concert at the Jazz Café in Camden in July 2014. 4/5

Tim Stenhouse

This came out of nowhere and has dominated my music room. It’s a wonderful return from a lady most of us remember from the 70’s, she provided us with some stunning soul tunes that have without doubt stood the test of time, and I feel this album will go onto claim its place too. Dark, mean and moody, very like those Doris Duke albums that surfaced in the early 70’s, she has developed a gritty tone to her voice too, all very Mavis Staples, and on the title track it all comes together – the best track on the album for me. The sound track is superb, provided by Joe Bellerose – drums & percussion, Doyle Bramwell II – guitar, Chris Bruce – bass and Patrick Warren – piano, Hammond and chamberlain. On some of the tracks the guitar is quite prominent and may well put off the passing buyer, but to the purist, this is a monumental welcome back, what a way to kick off the year. 5/5

Brian Goucher