Let Me Down Easy

I saw Bettye Lavette for free last night in Madison Square park.  Its actually the second time I’ve seen her outdoors for free, and she was better this time around. Lavette is a tiny woman with a massive voice who likes to make jokes about being a 66 year-old drunkard.  Her first record was released in 1962, when she was just 16, but for whatever reason — partly bad luck, partly bad decisions, partly the difficulty of finding a home for her tough singing style — she never quite made it.  In 1972, she even went to the Muscle Shoals studio, where they were used to handling big, tough voices like Wilson Pickett’s, to record an album, but Atlantic decided not to release it at the time.

Recently, Lavette has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence.  She did an album backed by the Drive-By Truckers — the father of one member of the DBT’s played bass and co-owned the Muscle Shoals studio, so it was like a second take on that 1972 attempt — which people said was a nice piece of gritty, bluesy soul (I thought it was pretty boring).  She put out another album that was composed entirely of covers of white British musicians (the Beatles, the Stones, the Who).  But in both her recordings and her live show, I find myself wanting more. She did a lot of slow songs last night, and a lot of covers like Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold,” but she never blew me out of my seat.  She’s still got a potent voice.  She needs to find some strong producers and song writers and put out the powerhouse album that she is capable of. Here’s one of her old tunes, from 1965, that shows what she can do.

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