by Don Waller
Detroit homegirl Bettye LaVette scored a 62 R&B hit (My Man Hes a Lovin Man) with her first record at age 16. Despite sporadic R&B success and performing Bubbling Brown Sugar on Broadway, she never charted pop. Spotted on the blues-soul festival circuit, Anti- Records paired her with fellow Michigander Joe Henry, who produced Solomon Burkes 2002 comeback effort. Henrys minimalistic approach works similar magic here, as LaVette wraps her steel-belted vocal cords around material written exclusively by female songwriters, ranging from country (Dolly Partons stark Little Sparrow, Lucinda Williamss bluesy Joy) to folk (Joan Armatradings brooding Down to Zero) to modern-rock (Aimee Manns sassy, How Am I Different). LaVette hand-picked all the songs; the albums title comes from a line in her jazzy rendition of Fiona Apples Sleep To Dream. And while she turns Cathy Maciejewskis Just Say So (a country hit for Bobbie Cryner) and frequent Leonard Cohen collaborator Sharon Robinsons The High Road into slow-burning soul ballads, the albums highlight just might be the opening track an a cappella take on Sinead O Connors I Do Not Want What I Havent Got, where LaVette sounds like shes shredding yards of silk with every syllable.
Don Waller writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.