Bettye LaVette – Things Have Changed | Album Review

Bettye LaVette – Things Have Changed

Verve Records

CD: 12 Songs, 59:15 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric R&B, Jazz-and-Soul-Influenced Blues, Blues Covers

Three-time Grammy nominee Bettye LaVette, from Detroit, plays no mere blues on her new album Things Have Changed. She proclaims “R&B with a Message,” loud and clear. It’s no wonder Verve Records released it, because she’s got it with a capital V. One of the trickiest things to do if you’re creating socially-conscious art is to get your point across without seeming preachy or heavy-handed. LaVette traverses this tightrope with grace and finesse. Her vocals, reminiscent of Macy Gray, are heavy on sass and light on saccharine, even on tear-jerker tracks such as “Mama, You Been on my Mind” and “Emotionally Yours.” The only bad news? There’s no original material here. All the songs are by Bob Dylan, although freshly arranged. One wonders what LaVette’s va-va-voom can do vis-a-vis songwriting. Nevertheless, this CD is a more-than-notable accomplishment. It’s got a charm all its own, though it’s a cover album.

It proves that Bettye possesses a flair for the exotic, which she inherited from her upbringing and desire to stand out from the crowd. According to her online bio, “She was born Betty Jo Haskins on January 29,1946, in Muskegon, Michigan. Her family moved to Detroit when she was six years old. Her parents sold corn liquor and her living room was oft-times visited by The Soul Stirrers, The Blind Boys of Mississippi, and many other traveling gospel groups of the day…By 16, Betty Jo had become enamored with showbiz. She decided to change her name to something more dramatic. She knew a local groupie by the name of Sherma Lavett, liked the sound of the name, and thus, Bettye LaVette was born. Singer Timmy Shaw brought her to Johnnie Mae Matthews, a notorious Detroit record producer. Bettye’s first single was ‘My Man – He’s a Loving Man,’ in the fall of 1962.”

Performing along with LaVette on lead vocals are Steve Jordan on drums, percussion, guitar, background vocals and hand claps; Larry Campbell on guitars and mandolin; Leon Pendarvis on regular and electric piano, organ, and keyboard bass; Pino Palladino on bass; Keith Richards on featured guitars and guitar solo; Trombone Shorty on ‘bone; Gil Goldstein on organ, electric harpsichord, accordion and harmonium; Ivan Neville on clavinet; and the Firey String Company on strings, consisting of Nioka Workman on cello, Charisa Dowe-Rouse and Rose Bartu on violin, and Ina Paris on viola.

The title track and opener is as relevant today as it was when it was first written and performed.

Track 01: “Things Have Changed” – Bringing a rollicking R&B twist to a classic Dylan tune, Bettye and her posse go all out. Dig Steve Jordan’s melodic guitar intro and those hard-driving drums. “Feel like I’m standing on the gallows with my head in a noose. Any minute now, I’m expecting all hell to break loose. People are crazy.” Truer words were never spoken, especially amidst this postmodern chaos. Here one gets a glimpse of everyone’s stellar musical talent.

Things Have Changed may have no new songs, but by golly, it’s got a ton of newfangled verve!

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