Editors' pick

Bettye LaVette

Rhythm and Blues
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Editorial Review

BETTYE LAVETTE
Album review: "Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook"

Bettye LaVette's new album, "Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook," is a triumph not because the veteran soul singer is a longtime fan of British rock-and-roll but because she isn't. LaVette never paid much attention to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones while she was recording one terrific R&B single after another in the '60s and '70s, albeit with minimal commercial success. As a result, she viewed such famous recordings as little more than songwriting demos she could adapt as she pleased. She didn't care what the songs had been; she only cared what they could be.

The spark for the "Interpretations" project came Dec. 6, 2008, when LaVette performed "Love Reign O'er Me" as part of the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. She transformed the drum-rumbling declamatory anthem into a gospel-soul ballad, working her way from whispered confessions of despair to wailing supplications for heavenly succor.

That performance closes out the new album. She also transforms the Beatles' "The Word" into a stomping funk workout, Led Zeppelin's "All My Love" into a bluesy, piano-dominated torch song and Eric Clapton's "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad" into jittery disco. She personalizes every song simply by shifting from clear-voiced assertion to raspy-throated ache at just the right moment.

-- Geoffrey Himes, June 2010