The British Invasion returns to its R&B roots
For the last few decades, Bettye LaVette has sung with the kind raw force that makes each word sound like a knife’s being pulled from her side.
She mostly performs straight-ahead soul, but she’s tackled covers by Willie Nelson and Ray Charles on previous releases, which means Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook
is hardly uncharted territory. She doesn’t just cover The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Who, Led Zeppelin and more—she wholly re-imagines the songs. On Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” she summons a kind of defiant nerve that Sir Elton himself could never muster, stripping down the instrumentation and relying instead on her ferocious pipes. And on Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” she transforms a sunny, grandiose pop song into a dark and desperate tale of devotion, paring down the sprawling guitar and drawling the main refrain. She occasionally indulges in vocal gymnastics just because she can, but LaVette’s voice revitalizes transcendent lyrics that many of today’s top female singers wouldn’t be able to handle.