Bette Smith, the powerhouse Brooklyn-born singer, reconnected with her musical roots in Memphis and Mississippi in order to make her debut album—and fulfilled a promise to her late brother in the process. Jetlagger, which came out Sept. 29 on Big Legal Mess, a Fat Possum subsidiary, is an electrifying blend of the gospel Smith once sang in church with the soul and rock she heard growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant. But the motivation for the album is thanks in large part to Smith’s brother, Junior, who passed away from kidney failure after making her promise to pursue her career. “It’s all for Junior now,” she says.
Jimbo Mathus produced Jetlagger at Dial Back Sound in Water Valley, Miss., in an almost entirely live setting. The trip was Smith’s first to the deep south. She recalls, “It took me out of my comfort zone. I got lost in a swamp one time and kind of freaked out! I’m a quintessential city girl.” Mathus dug into the Mississippi and Memphis soul bags for Smith, pulling out gems like “Flying Sweet Angel of Joy,” by Famous L. Renfroe, and Isaac Hayes’s “Do Your Thing.” He also co-wrote the raucous “Manchild,” the spare “Shackle & Chain,” and the vintage soul of “Durty Hustlin’.” But it’s Smith’s powder-keg voice that carries Jetlagger to glory.
Watch Bette Smith perform three songs from Jetlagger at Paste Studio.