28 September 2005

bettye lavette - "little sparrow" (from the i've got my own hell to raise lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : she's got a right to be hostile.

something about this "rediscovery" of old soul singers--solomon burke, howard tate, and, now, bettye lavette--bothers me. oh, sure, i should be pleased that, after years in the wilderness, they're being recognized. to a degree, it's territorial on my part, but i also can't shake the feeling of how patronizing it is to the artist. an analogous situation for a punk/indie fan might be if, say, the minutemen were trotted out by john mayer, and you had to listen to him pontificate about how important they are and how, like, nobody listened to them. one would protest--i listened to them!--and yet he would largely be right.

beyond the distate, though, there is, i think, fear: fear that the artist is in it for the wrong reasons and fear that, now that there is an audience, the music will not give that audience an accurate portrayal of the act. disappointment, too, is often a concomitant. take, for instance, much-feted solomon burke records of recent years. one hears that he's going to cover the rolling stones' "i got the blues" or the band's "it makes no difference" as he does on his latest record, and one immediately can hear him singing it, and what a brilliant idea, &c. (see also: johnny cash covering "the mercy seat.") of course, the voice one hears isn't their voice now but the classic voice, and disappointment ensues.

anti, responsible for the burke records, is also the new home of bettye lavette. the ancient fears mount until one remembers that those two are v. different people (though burke, preacher or no, would probably appreciate the distinction bettye makes between "screwing" and "fucking.") bettye can't rest on her laurels, b/c, frankly, they don't amount to much, at least commercially. whereas brother solomon was the king of rock & soul, bettye only had two top 20 r&b hits to her name--indeed, she was overshadowed in her day by, of all things, another woman named bettye (bettye swann). but, now that she's got the spotlight, she won't surrender it w/o a fight. the album title--i've got my own hell to raise--should itself give one warning of bettye's intentions.

her song choices, all written by women, are excitingly idiosyncratic. "little sparrow," the track i've posted, is a dolly parton cover, but not from her fertile, oft-covered 70's era; rather, it is the title track to an album she released in 2001. in dolly's hands, it's a tender, regretful song about a woman wronged at the hands of a former lover. bettye, as might be expected, turns it into an entirely different animal.

bettye describes it in an interview w/ dave hoekstra of the chicago sun-times:
"I first sang 'Little Sparrow' with the [original] arrangement. They thought I was going to sing it like that. When I got to the studio, the guys were playing what they learned on Dolly Parton's rendition. You can't quote me on all things, but I told them there is a difference between f-----g and screwing. I said, 'Don't you see? You all are screwing.' I had never confronted a band that way before in my life. I thought they'd hate me, but they all cracked up.

"I also told the drummer what I've told every drummer for my entire career" -- and here she sang the "Little Sparrow" bass lines -- "boom, boom boom boom -- just watch my butt. I had to act out parts or tell them how I felt. Joe never said to me, 'The band likes this, what do you think?' It was, 'This was the way she was singing -- think of something to go with what she's singing.'"
"little sparrow" becomes a bass-driven beast, no longer a fragile creature who simply wants to know "why he let me love in vain." the menace of the track suggests that it's but a matter of time before the hunter is captured by the game--and before the listener falls prey to ms. lavette's wiles.

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