Friday, March 30, 2018
My review of Bettye LaVette's new album, "Things Have Changed."
Listening to Bettye LaVette's album "Things Have Changed" on Spotify. She's very much dialed in. Wondering if that's Larry Campbell's lead on "Things Have Changed." Guessing it probably is. She really tears these songs down and puts them back together again almost as if it's a Bob Dylan Motown record. So many Bob covers and so few of them have any real meat on their clunky bones. This record is all about that sweet fat hanging off her ribs. I wish I had a wet nap so I could wipe my hands after each greasy, delicious morsel. “It Ain't Me Babe” is remorse at a heightened level that is painful to listen to because it reminds us just how many heartbreaks stand in the way of our happiness. The way she half growls - half whispers certain words leaves me in both delicious agony and expunged, laconic ecstasy. In fact it's the kind of ecstasy Lou Reed ordered up when he believed he was alone and the black leather - blue mask was put up on the shelf. “Political World” she stretches out and gets us up close and personal to the executioner’s face. It’s Bob rap served up by Bettye and Keith Richards with no apology as the song drives through Detroit, top down without a fucking care in this world or the next. “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight” breaks it wide open. Imagine Easter with no Christ or Passover without gefilte fish. This is one Bob song I always wished Bob would surprise us with and hearing it now brings fresh tears to my unrepentant eyes. I am loving this record because Bettye clearly loves these songs and understands that to do them any justice whatsoever you must bring tough love into the equation or else the geometry just won’t work. Not really finding the piss and vinegar that I am used to with “Seeing The Real You At Last”, but you can’t have everything as you sail through the storm strapped to the mast. “I'm gonna quit this bullshit now.” This record is a conversation between Bettye and her twin or maybe her audience or maybe just maybe she’s talking directly to her creator and leaving nothing to chance. I love in a recent RS interview she says “He writes arguments. He writes grievances. He doesn't write any love stories.” And as I listen to this record I get exactly what she’s saying. It’s not poetry, no, these are very much the 95 Theses Luther nailed to the Church’s door. “Mama, You Been On My Mind” gets under your skin and refuses to go anywhere. I recently lost my mother and this song will now live inside of me until I expire. “Ain’t Talkin’” has the excess skin flayed from its back of transgression and tribulation and the results are stark, unfunny and harrowing to say the very least especially when followed by a “The Times They Are A-Changin’” that I’ve never heard the likes of before. Many have covered this song, but few have truly uncovered what these words are actually reporting. This song is more than a plea, it’s an evocation and Bettye clearly understands this as the words flow out of her mouth like unanswered prayers from on high. Forget religion because God will hardly recognize you when the Pearly Gates slowly open and Saint Peter gives you a moment to change your mind and actually make a difference with your unexamined life. “What Was It You Wanted” yes Bettye, Mercy! Trombone Shorty is a revelation on this song. As I listen I am taken back to Marvin Gaye and the dark night of a soul when bullets replaced words and not even “Sexual Healing” could save him. How one song transitions into the next must be heard to be believed. “Emotionally Yours” is a hymn to the servitude of real love without any back talk or sass to muddy the waters of a journey connecting hearts and minds. I find myself swooning and wanting to hear that one again as I put on my shoes so I can set out to find my one true love. Another killer transition because hearing things in chronological order makes zero sense when dealing with Bob’s extensive and excruciating catalog of hits and more hits. “Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others)” is a thumb in your eye as the good book comes alive and helps every one of us make up for lost Robinson Crusoe time. No better song to end this album than “Going, Going, Gone” another song underplayed and underappreciated from an album that deserves more love. Her growl is right in the pocket as our heartstrings are again given a good talking to before she throws you a backward glance and walks right out that door. Thank you Bettye and thank you Bob! - Charles Cicirella 3/30/18