Having conquered the ghosts of a hard-luck past on her GRAMMY-nominated CD The Scene of the Crime, BETTYE LAVETTE shines a new light on that past with her latest, A CHANGE IS GONNA COME SESSIONS. The digital-only EP for Anti- Records, available exclusively through iTunes starting June 16, revisits BETTYEâ€™s forgotten post-Atlantic Records years as a nightclub singer, Broadway performer, and touring cast member opposite Cab Calloway in â€œBubbling Brown Sugar.â€
The EP opens with a stirring solo version of Sam Cookeâ€™s posthumous Civil Rights anthem â€œA Change Is Gonna Come,â€ a song which BETTYE sang with Jon Bon Jovi in January as part of the â€œWe Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorialâ€ concert. Joining BETTYE for these Sessions are pianist and musical director Al Hill, veteran bassist John Heard â€“ who has accompanied such luminaries as Count Basie, Cole Porter, Ella Fitzgerald, and Art Pepper â€“ drummer Danny Frankel (k.d. lang, Lou Reed), and Tom Hagerman from DeVotchKa on strings.
A mix of standards and soul classics from BETTYEâ€™s 1970s stage and nightclub repertoire rounds out the 6-song set, including songs by Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Bill Withers, and Jimmy Reed. A rendition of Billie Holidayâ€™s â€œGod Bless The Childâ€ â€“ a song that BETTYE first performed with show-stopping magnificence in â€œBubbling Brown Sugarâ€ â€“ highlights BETTYEâ€™s vocal mastery. Rather than attack, BETTYE approaches these tracks with subtlety â€“ while nonetheless wresting every ounce and every nuance of meaning from the words she sings. Once more, BETTYE provides the definitive answer to the question posed by NPR in its review of The Scene of the Crime: â€œIs there any soul singer who brings more guts, more conviction and more emotion to her singing?â€ Absolutely not.
This nod to the past is just the latest step in a nearly five-decade career that has truly come full circle and is now pointed straight ahead: from early promise to a masterwork (Child of the Seventies) shelved by Atlantic Records; from Broadway to obscurity; from a triumphant return with her 2005 Anti- debut Iâ€™ve Got My Own Hell To Raise, to a GRAMMY nomination for The Scene of the Crime; and most recently her devastating performances honoring The Who at the Kennedy Center Honors in December 2008, paired with Jon Bon Jovi at the Lincoln Memorial for President Obamaâ€™s inaugural celebration in January, and alongside Sir Paul McCartney at a Radio City Music Hall benefit for the David Lynch Foundation in April.
The Foo Fightersâ€™ Dave Grohl raved about BETTYEâ€™s performance at the Kennedy Center Honors on Air America radio, saying, â€œBettye LaVetteâ€¦She is gonna steal the show. She was so phenomenal, this performance of The Who song that she did. It will bring you to tears. The room was pin-drop silent when she did this song, and it was just unbelievable.â€
The Whoâ€™s own Pete Townshend concurred in a Q&A on his blog at TheWho.com: “My favorite moment was when Bettye LaVette sang a very fine version of ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ at the Gala and Barbra Streisand turned to ask me if I really wrote it.”
Meanwhile, her duet of â€œA Change Is Gonna Comeâ€ with Jon Bon Jovi was a transcendent moment in BETTYEâ€™s career. As BETTYE told the Dallas Morning News, â€œWhen I got to the line â€˜I always believed a change would come,â€™ my eyes fixed on [Obama] and I was kinda stunned. Our eyes locked and he was mouthing the words along.â€
As Phil Gallo noted in Daily Variety, â€œBettye Lavette, who took D.C. by storm last month at the Kennedy Center Honors, was partnered with Jon Bon Jovi on Sam Cooke’s â€˜A Change Is Gonna Come.â€™ She invested it with anguish, he approached it from a perspective of reasoned logic, giving the [performance] considerable gravitas.â€
Indeed, BETTYE is no stranger to such praise in this new dawn of her career, as the acclaim for The Scene of the Crime demonstrated. â€œIs there a more wrenching soul singer alive than Bettye LaVette?â€ asked Entertainment Weekly. â€œIf so, keep it to yourself, because Iâ€™m too wrung out from Crimeâ€™s intensity to take anything more emotionally potent.â€ USA Today proclaimed, â€œThis albumâ€¦just rips, with some truly sublime peaks,â€ while Rolling Stone added, â€œLaVetteâ€™s nuanced singing evokes prime Tina Turner with even more command.â€
The track listing for BETTYEâ€™s iTunes exclusive A CHANGE IS GONNA COME SESSIONS is as follows:
1. â€œA Change Is Gonna Comeâ€ (Sam Cooke)
2. â€œ’Round Midnightâ€ (Thelonious Monk)
3. â€œGod Bless The Childâ€ (Billie Holiday / Arthur Herzog)
4. â€œLush Lifeâ€ (Duke Ellington / Billy Strayhorn)
5. â€œAin’t No Sunshineâ€ (Bill Withers)
6. â€œAinâ€™t That Lovinâ€™ Youâ€ (Jimmy Reed)