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December 2012

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Bettye Lavette
Thankful N' Thoughtful
Anti Records

Bettye Lavette

I remember fondly my introduction to Bettye Lavette and her amazing talents. Nominated in 2004 for a Blues Music Award, Bettye’s voice rang out from the middle of the Cook Convention Center as she made her way forward to the stage and I sat there, mesmerized by her vocal honesty and vulnerability. When I got back to Phoenix, I immediately told the Board of the Phoenix Blues Society, “we need to book her for Blues Blast,” and that was only the beginning. I was fortunate to be in Portland this summer for the Waterfront Blues Festival, and besides seeing another stellar performance by Bettye at the festival, I was also able enough to sit in on a Q & A with Bettye later on that evening. What was once vulnerability is now strength, Bettye has found her place, defends it tenaciously and will take on all comers. The t-shirt in my closet says it best, Bettye Lavette will F*ck You Up.

This strength has produced four wonderful records for Anti and her newest one, Thankful N’ Thoughtful, finds Bettye tackling songs written by everyone from Bob Dylan to the Black Keys to Gnarls Barkley. Let’s give it a listen.

Bettye opens with Dylan’s “Everything is Broken.” From this perspective, everything around Bettye is “broken.” “Every time you stop and look around. something else just hit the ground…everything is broken!” From broken hearts to broken beds to broken relationships…everything is broken. A ballad, “I’m Not the One,” is up next and Bettye is speaking her truth. “I’ve been tried…and I’ve been tested…I was born tired…and I ain’t got arrested…heart of marble stone…I’m better off…better off left alone…I’m not the one!” Her suitor of record loves her but the feelings aren’t reciprocated, and Bettye is telling him to move on, she’s “not the one.”

“Dirty Old Town” is up next and Bettye is revisiting a love from her past in her mind. “I met my love…down by Northern High…dreamed the dream…at a greystone dance…I kissed my love…by the dodged main gate…dirty old town…dirty old town.” A shot rang out, took the life of the one she loved, and all the remains “is the dirty old town.”

Our next tune, “The More I Search (The More I Die),” finds Bettye reflecting on the choices in her life and all that they entail. “So many chances…I’ve taken…so many choices I have made….I chose again today…to seek Love…God, if it’s you…please let me in….the more I search…the more I die…I wanna feel…I wanna be alive!” An up-tempo guitar intro leads us to Bettye’s ode to her own independence, “I’m Tired.” “I’m tired of trying to be…something I know ain’t me…I’m tired of living up to…what people expect of me…wouldn’t it be a drag…if people were all the same…I ain’t going to try to please!”

The Gnarls Barkley tune, “Crazy”, was released by Anti as the first single off of Bettye’s disc and it’s definitely a somber tune. “Come over here…come over here now…who do you think you are…do you really think….you’re the one in control?...I think you’re crazy….exactly like me.”

Glenn Patscha brings a different dark tone with his piano to Bettye’s take on “Yesterday is Here.” “The road is out before me…and the moon is shining bright…what I want you to remember…as I disappear in the night…today is grey sky…tomorrow is tears…you’re going to have to wait…til yesterday is here.” The title track, “Thankful N’ Thoughtful,” finds Bettye appreciating a second chance that she’s been given. “From my ankles…to the top of my head…I’ve taken many chances…and I could have been dead…that’s why I’m so thankful….and Lord, I’m thoughtful.”

Moving on to “Fair Enough” we find Bettye’s relationship ending and she’s accepting of the situation. “Cause if my love can’t stop you…words ain’t going to make you change your mind…I took a chance to love you….you broke my heart this time…fair enough!”

A Patty Griffin tune, “Time Will Do the Talking,” follows and Bettye attacks it with gusto. “Time will do the talking…years will do the walking…I’m going to find a comfortable spot….and just wait the whole thing out!” Life moves at a different pace for all of us and sometimes it’s good to just pause…to wait the whole thing out.

Thankful N’ Thoughtful ends up with a Neil Young tune, “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,” “I got to get away from this running around…everybody knows this is nowhere” and a slower version of “Dirty Old Town.”

Thankful N’ Thoughtful is another excellent disc by Bettye Lavette. It earned her a nomination at next May’s Blues Music Awards for Best Contemporary Female Artist and I look forward to that BMA performance. Bettye languished for years in relative obscurity before making her “comeback” in 2004 and she has more than made up for lost time. A string of excellent recordings for Anti, an appearance with Jon Bon Jovi at President Obama’s inauguration, singing at the Kennedy Center Honors and numerous performances around the world have all entrenched Bettye in our consciousness.

Bettye is indeed one of the lights of our generation and I encourage you to learn more about this amazing woman on her website, Grab any three of the recordings found there, and you won’t be disappointed!

--- Kyle Deibler



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