The latest album from ‘Miss’ Lavelle White, Into The Mystic (Antones Records), is her first in six years and only the third in a career that spans close to 50 years. When you hear this lady’s majestic voice and soaring delivery, you might find yourself wondering why she doesn’t have a catalogue numbering in the double digits. The answer to that question remains one of those musical mysteries that you will never be able to quite pinpoint, but will eventually write off to the hysterical blindness of the recording industry.
With Into The Mystic, Miss White delivers an eclectic album of some very recognizable covers, along with a few of her own originals for a musical experience that is truly delightful to listen to. Lavelle’s commanding voice immediately captures your ear with her bright rendition of “Soul Deep,” that is punctuated gorgeously by Riley Osbourn’s B3 melodies that you will hear again and again over the 12 numbers.
The title track is Van Morrison’s classic piece given a beautiful arrangement that envelops White’s flawlessly smooth vocals. Things turn funky on Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ For The City,” as Lavelle growls and grinds out the vocals set against some slick slide and harmonica riffs provided by Guy Forsyth before pulling back the reins for a touching treatment of Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You.”
The first record Miss White ever cut was with a gospel group, and she revisits those roots with a dazzling modernized version of Edwin Hawkins’ “Oh Happy Day” that features some velvety harmonies alongside Lavelle’s powerful vocals. Another gospel piece, “Lord I Want To Thank You,” finds Lavelle reaching for that little something extra in her voice that explodes through her delivery while being accompanied by only a backing vocalist and Barry “Frosty” Smith’s rolling percussion.
White’s songwriting talents, as well as her voice, are what first caught Don Robey’s attention way back in the '50s. Those talents are fully explored on the latter portion of this fine record with “Love In Return,” an acoustic number on which Lavelle is accompanied only by guitarist Steve James on this woeful tale of matters of the heart. “If (I Could Be With You)" was Lavelle White’s first big break as a singer/song writer and she revises it here quite nicely with a performance that is not only stunning, but upon first listen, quite obvious that it’s also a personal favorite.
Producer Derek O’Brien’s lush acoustic guitar pickings and Riley Osbourn’s barrelhouse piano permeate the high energy “Computer Blues,” a romping story of how these wonderful little boxes can drive you nuts if you had to sell them for a living.
I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many covers of “At Last” exist, but Lavelle’s homage to this classic is right up there as one of the best. The album’s closing number, “Movin,” begins with White proclaiming “I need a hit record,” and then launching into a tune that is steeped heavily in Memphis R&B and does indeed have the ingredients of a hit.
Lavelle White has more than paid her dues over the years, with a significant discography of singles that date back mostly to the '50s and '60s. She only recorded her first full length album, Miss Lavelle, in 1994, and followed it up three years later with It Haven’t Been Easy, but prior to that there were many years where she had no record deal and spent her time singing her heart out in clubs in places like Texas, Chicago and Louisiana, wowing the crowds with her incredible voice.
Into The Mystic, like her other two releases, makes you stop and think just how much other great music there should have been.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
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