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March 2003

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Bettye Lavette
A Woman Like Me
Blues Express

Bettye Lavette

Well, here it is only March and I hold in my hand the CD that will undoubtedly be my Best of the Year for 2003; Bettye Lavette's new CD is perhaps the best female soul release in several years.

A Woman Like Me (Blues Express) was produced by Dennis Walker who also produced all the early Robert Cray releases. Walker was a major contributor as a songwriter on all of those early releases too, so it is no wonder that he has written nine of the 12 songs here, including two, "The Forecast (Calls For Pain)" and "Right Next Door (Because Of Me)" each appearing on one of Cray's Mercury releases, with the latter's lyrics being used to title Cray's "Strong Persuader" release.

Enough talk about Robert Cray, though, since this is a Bettye Lavette release all the way --- and what a release it is. As mentioned in the album's liner notes, this release is only the second time her talents have been showcased in a full length album. She first recorded in the early ' 60s and has had numerous single releases over the years with limited success. As is the case with so many of our soul/blues performers, she has a large following in Europe, prompting a 2000 live release from Germany coupled with a fine French release of her complete Atlantic/Atco recordings from the late '60s and early '70s. Both of these releases are well worth seeking out as I am sure you will want to do after hearing this new release on Blues Express.

Seconds into the opening track, "Serves Him Right," you realize that the years have been good to her. Her voice is as strong and convincing as ever. When she growls out the lines "...He can go to hell for all I care..." you know you are in for an emotional experience. 12 tracks later, you are in awe of this newly rediscovered diva, and are bewildered that she has not been a major star. Hopefully that will change.

The previously mentioned second track, "The Forecast," rivals Cray's performance. It is a well crafted song that works well in Lavette's hands. The track that follows, "Through The Winter," is an absolute jaw dropper --- a slow burner wrought with as much emotion as a singer can deliver. What a trip!

Song number four is the other Cray song, "Right Next Door," a cheating song on a par with the best of that genre. When she sings "...I was just another notch on his guitar. He made me lose the man who really loved me , he made me break my baby's heart...", mine broke too.

Jumping to the sixth track, "Thinking About You," a sensuous song about a woman longing for her man. When she moans "hot," I break out in a sweat. What passion in her voice. Only halfway through the album and I am already in love with her.

Jumping once again to track number eight, "It Ain't Worth It After A While," you hear Bettye in a different light, a torch song very much in the Billie Holiday mold. This track has some fine piano by the great Rudy Robinson who unfortunately passed away shortly after recording this album.

Track number nine, "When A Woman's Had Enough," is a great Dennis Walker tune also recorded by Shemekia Copeland on her new CD. If you want to hear how sensational Bettye Lavette is, compare those two tracks. We all know how great Shemekia is. Well, Bettye's version leaves Shemekia's in the dust. "Salt On My Wounds" has a fine sax intro and is another intense slow burner about lost love. Whew!

There isn't much more I can add to this review. If you aren't convinced by now, you never will be. Buy this CD. It will not leave your CD player. When you have sympathetic live musicians, an understanding producer and the great, great Bettye Lavette on board, the perfect CD can be created.

--- Alan Shutro

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