Bettye LaVette's new album of Bob Dylan tunes is titled "Things Have Changed."
Indeed they have, and for LaVette each change has informed the depth of her musicality. Early days in Detroit at the conception and birth of Motown. A top 10 R&B hit, "My Man — He's a Lovin' Man," at the tender age of 16. A role on Broadway alongside Cab Calloway, in the Tony Award-winning musical Bubbling Brown Sugar.
Not to mention working with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, and with too many legends to name. (But we have to mention at least a couple: Otis Redding and James Brown.) And then a late-career renaissance, beginning with the 2005 album I've Got My Own Hell to Raise. The momentum hasn't let up since.
Bettye brought all of that drive and spirit to Morning Jazz. She also brought her Detroit band, with bassist and musical director James Simonson, guitarist Brett Lucas, keyboardist Evan Mercer, and drummer Darryl Pierce. They played the new album’s title track along with a few other Dylan gems, like "It Ain't Me, Babe."
The band also played a stirring version of the ballad "Emotionally Yours," along with "Political World," which on the album features a cameo by Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones.
Bettye LaVette is a Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer honoree. So when she comes to WBGO to chat and sing, the listen glistens with the rich history of a life deeply lived, and felt every time she tells a story or sings a song. As she told me during our chat: "The singing is not an extension of myself. I am the song."
Things Have Changed is out now on Verve. Order it here.
Audio mix: Corey Goldberg
Video: Chris Tobin