Bettye LaVette – Thankful N’ Thoughtful ★★★★

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ANTI-Records Bettye LaVette (v); plus various personnel.
Rec. date not stated

Featuring the brilliant production of Craig Street, Thankful N’ Thoughtful marks 50 years in music for the Detroit-reared R&B legend and survivor, Bettye LaVette. The singer’s remarkable comeback dates back to her 2003 album, A Woman Like Me, since when she’s been steadily on the rise. Two notable milestones, her acclaimed version of ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors (a tribute to The Who) and her duet performance of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ with Jon Bon Jovi at Barack Obama’s celebratory Inauguration concert in January 2009, have helped bring her the recognition she deserves.

Passion, grit and pathos are the poles around which LaVette’s potent storytelling revolves, as heard in her remarkable interpretation of Dylan’s scene-setting ‘Everything’s Broken’. In addition to the Sly & The Family Stone title track, a 1930s-style take on Tom Waits’ ‘Yesterday Is Here’ and a blues reworking of Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’, LaVette also offers a highly personal take on Ewan MacColl’s ‘Dirty Old Town’, in which she references the 1960s riots in her home town of Detroit. Best of all is LaVette’s interpretation of Kim McLean’s ‘The More I Search (The More I Die)’, in which the singer makes every line (“In my vain humiliation I’ve wandered through shame’s dark halls”) sound autobiographical.

– Peter Quinn