Record > MusicBettye LaVette: Do Your Duty
Let's all hail reissue labels (such as Sundazed) that do it correctly: lovely packaging and mastering (from original mix-down tapes) and the good taste to keep absurdly great music from rotting in vaults and basements.
Here it reminds us how soul singers are born, not created, how they often began their careers as mere pups blessed with giant, gospel-hued voices that rose from some barely explicable depth, as if they sang not for joy but because they had to.
Enter LaVette. She'd recorded for a number of indies (a run kick-started on Detroit's Lu-Pine label and a 1962 R&B top ten — LaVette was 16), saw a couple ill-fated stints on Atlantic but never had true mainstream success until a 2002 resurrection, thanks mostly to a soul revival led by ratty bin-divers and Northern soul heads. And ranking in the top tier of LaVette's catalog is the 1969-'70 stuff she did on Silver Fox and SSS International, all 11 songs assembled on this stunner of a collection.
Under the watchful production eye of storied Lelan Rogers, recorded at Sounds of Memphis studio, and backed by the Memphis Horns (whose Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love penned the tender "At the Mercy of a Man," included here) and the crack backup team later christened the Dixie Flyers, this disc just jumps and sings and hurts and stings. There's innocence lost and the raging sexual energy of a woman who's learning control, who's learning life's kicks and tricks and then moving on.
From the gnarly horns of opener "My Train's Coming In" to the sassed-up "Piece of My Heart," which, you'll hear, tops Janis Joplin's and Erma Franklin's in both dynamic vocal range and believability, to "He Made a Woman Out of Me" — where you can almost smell the moldy foliage in the song's swampy groove — LaVette's a barrel-chested giant and a tender little kid.
LaVette's raging of Joe South's "Games People Play" — atop the band's late-night saunter — becomes a song that shows, in her hands, and looking back on her career now, absolute depth and meaning. Allen Tousaint's lovely, sax-and-bass led "Nearer to You" is outright longing, a soul-deep confessional that you could only hope to live long enough to hear someone sing ... straight at you.
Brian Smith is the features editor of Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.