Bettye Lavette is one of the most exhilarating performers this writer has seen in the past few years. Blues Express issued a superb album a few years ago that led her to win several major blues awards. Joe Henry and Anti Records’ Andy Kaulkin got her into the studio to record a disc modeled after Solomon Burke’s recent discs which had Burke record songs by contemporary songwriters.
This time all the songwriters are women and Lavette’s release I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise (Anti) should take her to similar recognition. From the opening a cappella rendition of Sinead O’Connor’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got that comes off like a field holler to the closing treatment of Fiona Apple's Sleep to Dream from which the album title derives, Lavette sings letting everything out.
There might be vocal similarities to Tina Turner (who covered some of Lavette’s sixties recordings), but Lavette never strays from the lyrical themes of hurt, heartache and looking for her angel. With the sparse backing band providing her with the framework to deliver her voice at times evokes the field holler as on the opening track, while at other times she sings of heartaches as only one who has experienced them as she has can deliver.
Some new lyrics are added to Lucinda Williams’ Joy and she transforms Rosanne Cash’s On the Surface into a deep soul masterpiece as well as the wonderful country ballad, Just Say So, by Bobby Cryner with just simple acoustic guitar backing. When she sings “never trust the heart of a man” in Dolly Parton’s Little Sparrow, one knows she is not just singing words. A superb disc that gets better with every new listen.
This review originally appeared in the December 2005-January 2006 D.C. Blues Calendar, then the newsletter of the DC Blues Society.