Things Have Changed
Bettye LaVette’s had one hell of a comeback – or an arrival; barely anyone knew about her before, and if they did it was more about her struggles than her music – she’s also got one hell of a colourful backstory and though there was some great music early on it was largely under-discovered and/or instantly forgotten but over the last decade and a half she’s made some great albums.
She’s also been adept at cover-choices – so it’s no real surprise to have this album of Bob Dylan covers. And though the ‘surprise’ of it, for some, might be in the actual selections (hardly any of the obvious fare, and the ‘big’ songs here, It Ain’t Me Babe and The Times They Are A-Changin’ are transformed into lurching blues slow-stompers) it’s all in keeping with LaVette’s offerings.
The seeds of this, for me at least, are in 2015’s album, Worthy; a set of very worthy covers which included highlights from big names (Beatles, Dylan, The Rolling Stones) but all were less-obvious song choices. The Dylan one was Unbelievable – from one of his worst albums. She made it sound like one of his best songs.
And so it is here, with a setlist largely taken from the troubled/troubling 1980s albums. LaVette works through a few late-period classics (What Was It You Wanted, Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight, Emotionally Yours) but no one could really have expected songs like Seeing The Real You At Last to even deserve a second shot, let alone to shine.
That’s the power of LaVette – and her producer and players. Steve Jordan at the helm here is an obvious choice and safe pair of hands and brings in his sometime-boss Keith Richards to play some gnarled and lovely licks across the rendition of Political World. The main guitarist here is Larry Campbell, so Dylan fans that are reading this and still wishing to retain their scepticism should be exhaling somewhat at that thought. Add Pino Palladino (bass) for good measure and Leon Pendarvis (keys).
Plenty of breathing space across and though these arrangements and plenty of newly (re)discovered gems.
Of course Don’t Fall Apart On Me is always going to work – that’s one of Dylan’s best and proudest, bravest lyrics. But there’s a grit and stoicism that LaVette can offer to any song that always adds something extra.
In fact her brand of sass is what’s most welcome here. If Dylan was – even if only thought of in retrospect – one of the world’s first rappers then LaVette sure helps to ram that point home.
Particularly on the so-called weaker/lesser songs here.
Going Going Gone was covered by Gregg Allman on his final album – pointedly of course. So maybe Bettye rescues it back in a sense. At any rate it’s a fine album closer. Just as the opening, title track is the perfect scene-setter here.
So it’s all things for all people – a Bettye LaVette album for Bettye LaVette fans, a Dylan covers project for the fans and sceptics and a fine set of songs covered by a great band and singer – you can forget any reverence going in if you like. You’ll find it there. In the end this album is emotionally yours if it’s what you wanted.
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