Friday, September 21, 2007
The definition of Soul
A lot of activity this week, so I've been remiss with blogging, but a quick interim posting here:
I don't think I've heard a more affecting piece of music lately than N.J. soul singer Bettye LaVette's version of Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia," recorded for a new three-CD compilation called "Song of America" (31 Tigers/Split Rock Records) just out this month. The anthology is a collection of folk and contemporary songs that offer a musical history of America, featuring artists such as John Mellencamp, the Mavericks and others (it features a second Springsteen track as well, Matthew Ryan's minimalist electronica take on "Youngstown"). But LaVette's "Streets" is the gem of the bunch. A Detroit native, LaVette was a popular soul singer in the 1960s and '70s whose career went awry. At the age of 60 (and now living in N.J.), she's staging a comeback of sorts, releasing a new album, "The Scene of the Crime" (backed by the Drive-By Truckers) this month, and scheduling some performances as well.
I've heard a lot of different versions of "Streets," including a duet Springsteen and Elton John performed at Carnegie Hall in 1995. But none of those - including Springsteen's original - come close to LaVette's. She nails the song so perfectly it's almost frightening, not unlike what Johnny Cash did with Trent Reznor's "Hurt." iTunes has the track available as a download, so give it a listen. It's the real thing.