by Bill Forman
Bettye LaVette, who amazed folks at last year’s Blue Under the Bridge, has a new album on the way called Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook. It’s not every day an R&B legend records a collection of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Beatles and Stones songs, but then LaVette is no everyday artist.
The album doesn’t come out until next Tuesday, May 25, but you can stream the whole thing here.
Not surprisingly, the album closes with her incendiary Kennedy Center Honors performance of “Love Reign O'Er Me" from the Who’s Quadrophenia album, which reportedly prompted Barbra Streisand to turn to follow honoree Pete Townshend and ask, “Did you really write that?”
In an Indy feature story last July, LaVette explained how she’d never actually heard the Who song prior to rehearsing it for the event:
"It's far from something that I believe I would have been attracted to," she explains in a matter-of-fact manner that comes across as honest rather than arrogant.
"I don't ever listen to anybody's version of anything much — I learn the melody, and my husband, thank God, prints out the words for me."
Ironically, LaVette also expressed some ambivalence about the Beatles, even though she’d recently appeared onstage with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr at Radio City Hall. (And yes, the new album will include renditions of McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” and Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy.”)
So what's it like being the third Beatle?
"Ahhh, I love it," LaVette all but howls at the idea. "You know, over the years I've probably done more Beatles tunes than any other black rhythm and blues artists ever."
LaVette likens John Lennon and McCartney — along with Smokey Robinson and maybe Elton John — to the Irving Berlins of our time: "They're such great writers," she says of the Beatles. "Now I never liked the way they sounded, but as I've gotten older, I've come to realize how difficult it is for musicians to play what they played."
LaVette won’t be coming back through town this summer, but she WILL be appearing down in Trinidad, CO on August 28 at the Trinidaddio Blues Festival. (You can read more about it and other area summer festivals in the Indy’s Annual Summer Guide issue, which comes out this Thursday.)
Meanwhile, in case you haven’t seen it, here’s a video of LaVette’s performance, followed by the original in the film version of Quadrophenia.