A little more than halfway through Bettye Lavette's long overdue autobiography, A Woman Like Me, I think I can safely call this the most brutally honest and awe-inspiring book on the trials and tribulations of an artist's drive to make it in the music industry since Billie Holiday's landmark Lady Sings the Blues. Its that good, that compelling and that shocking. If you haven't read Billie's book, I do suggest you get that now even if you are unfamiliar with her influential music. Then go out and get Bettye's book.
of whether you decide to read about Bettye you should definitely LISTEN and there are fortunately a bunch
of great releases out just last year from Ms. LaVette which are as good a tarting place as any:
Hot on the heels of her wonderful new 2 LP set Thankful and Thoughtful -- which is available on high resolution HDTracks download as well as two LPs (spinning at 45 RPM and sounding surprisingly sweet despite it being on somewhat flimsy vinyl) -- Bettye snuck out another five song EP called, appropriately enough, "More Thoughtful, More Thankful." Why she didn't just add this onto the original album I don't know but its nice to have these great more-than-outtake tracks, particularly the aching "Old" by singer/songwriter Christine Santelli.
important, be certain to pick up the essential Child of the Seventies release on Rhino Records which came out in
2006 at the dawn (if you will) of Bettye's re-discovery / reinvention: a omplete 1972 Atlantic Records album -- recorded in legendary Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where Aretha, Otis Redding and many others convened to capture the
sound and feel -- that was mysteriously shelved for no particular reason. Bettye details the story in her book and also in the informative booklet accompanying the CD; as you listen to the album, one can not help but share in the heartbreak she felt when the label shelved this awesome record.
It is fabulous. Perhaps it was too fabulous.
Since Bettye was never given a good reason why the record was cancelled, one can only speculate as to the rationale. I am guessing that it was going to be too much competition to other Atlantic artists of the period like Aretha Franklin. Or perhaps the label's new up and coming star named Bette Midler was a more surefire "win" for the company's bank account. Or perhaps they were stinging from the relative failure of Dusty Springfield's now legendary LP Dusty In Memphis in 1969 and its successor A Brand New Me in 1970 (which stalled at #99 and #107 on the charts, respectively).
Whatever the case, Child of the Seventies is a smoker. There are some great covers including "It Ain't Easy," the Ron Davies' song also recorded by David Bowie and Three Dog Night. "If I Can't Be Your Woman," "Fortune Teller," "Soul Tambourine" and the inspiring "All The Black and White Children" are among the many great new songs that would have made their debut on this album back in the day. Bettye's cover of Joe Simon's "Your Turn To Cry" is arguably as poignant as anything Aretha Franklin ever did at her peak, possibly more so -- this bleeds with the pain Janis Joplin often delivered to her audiences. The CD also includes almost a full album's worth of bonus tracks including rare singles such as a stunning cover of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold." My only request to the good folks at Rhino is that they put out this gem on a proper LP (180-gram, colored multi-color vinyl, please) and high resolution download. Child of the Seventies deserves more than just the CD treatment.
Whether you are already a fan of Bettye's music or just discovering her today, these recordings are a great place to discover two sides of Bettye's amazing journey that has taken her from a lifetime of disappointments and broken promises to the grandest stages of the world and singing for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Thank heavens Bettye has finally arrived and is being given her due respect.
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Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many
years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp,AT&T and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written. www.smotroff.com