When Bettye LaVette growls “same old words, same old song” midway through the latest album of her six-decade career, don’t mistake it for complacency. Much of the magic of LaVette! lies in the 77-year-old soul survivor’s ability to invest classic R&B tropes with the world-weary experience and infallible wisdom of age, so they hit different. She has trodden these paths of heartbreak enough times to roll her damned eyes, and you can hear that in her seasoned rasp.
Every morsel of gravel is audible in her voice on LaVette! She didn’t sound like this when she cut her first single, My Man, He’s a Lovin’ Man, for Atlantic Records back in 1962, her vocal pristine, like a honeyed Carla Thomas. Over the years, as her career smouldered but never quite caught fire, the grain came to the fore, so when her career unexpectedly revived in the early 00s, she had grown into a singer whose audible intolerance of bullshit you’d be unwise to ignore.
That’s your host for these 11 songs, all penned by veteran songwriter Randall Bramblett. She’s backed by stellar musos, including Steve Winwood, Pino Palladino and Ray Parker Jr, but LaVette is the true focus, leading the fiery JB’s-esque funk of Mess About, and declaring “champagne and a joint would do me just fine” on Plan B. She’s glorious company, and when she croons sadly “I keep on rolling, but the thrill is gone” on See Through Me, the electric charge of her voice makes a liar of her.