Various Beatles, The Animals, Traffic, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Moody Blues, Eric Clapton, Elton John and The Who get LaVette’d here big time: That means songs you know, like “Wish You Were Here,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Nights In White Satin,” “Love Reign O’er Me” and nine others, get darkened considerably. They get turned inside-out, upside-down, injected with pathos, grit, determination and in some cases, a desperate wail in the night that might otherwise cause you to call the cops.
Bettye LaVette, yet another Garden State treasure, has a voice that would make the king of the jungle turn back and run the other way. It growls, pleads, cajoles, demands and, although rarely, whimpers. It’s a voice that can go from a whisper to a scream in .06 seconds. It’s the voice of authority and when it opens, you damn well better listen.
Not content simply to interpret, it’s almost as if these songs are rewritten: In some cases melodically, others arrangement-wise. They become new again. Some even improve upon the originals. It’s one thing to interpret time-tested classics and infuse them with soul. This goes way beyond that. Bettye has the rare power to transcend each song’s limitations and make it into a whole ‘nother animal.
They say composers back in the day had fits when Billie Holiday would sing their melodies and invent her own melodic structures during her recordings of their songs. LaVette takes great liberties here as well. And it works. Big time.
First listen advice: Don’t look at the set list. Give it a concentrative listen where you just sit there and watch the music come out of the speakers. Enjoy each rush of recognition as you realize what song it is (sometimes it takes awhile).