On March 10th we went to the Regatta Bar to see the amazing Bettye Lavette, a true force of nature. With the modern soul world inhabited by poseurs, Lavette is the real deal, the absolute paradigm for the term “soul survivor.” In her mid-sixties she is still beautiful and sexy with an uncompromising stage presence, she made me think of the lettering emblazoned across the top of James Brown’s 1962 LP “Excitement;” “Cool – Tough – Pure,” that, in a nutshell is Bettye Lavette.
She made her first record in the early 1960’s at age 16, with real success just missing her until late in life. While I like Ms. Lavette’s records to me she is someone you need to see live where you get the whole package. She was backed by her tight band that easily conjured up the deep soul groove that she needed while not attempting to re-create any earlier era. I think that might be what is special about Ms. Lavette, she is not attempting to reproduce 1960’s soul music but simply taking that style that she was forged in and adapt it to contemporary material (much like the late, great Solomon Burke did). So you hear genuine “soulful” takes on material written by John Hiatt, Lucinda Williams, Fiona Apple, Pete Townsend, Sinead O’Connor and Elton John (stylistic versions that they themselves could never pull off). Lavette’s performances cut like a laser beam straight to the emotional heart of every song, wrenching every bit of feeling out of them and letting you know that she is one of the soul greats regardless of what the record charts ever said about her.