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.


Anonymous said...

Bettye LaVette. Face it -- Miss LaVette does what the great soul singers do: they take a song and make it their own.

Wait until you hear her version of Elton John's "Talking Old Soldiers," it's a masterpiece that she almost didn't record. It's included on her soon-to-be-released CD, SCENE OF THE CRIME.

Bettye spend many years on the legit stage (Broadway and touring) developing her acting chops and they came in handy with both "Philadelphia" and "Soldiers." Both songs evolk remembrances of friends who have passed on and the lost and deep hurt they leave behind.

LaVette is among those who have lost friends and colleagues, so these songs mean a great deal to her.

Thank God she's back and singing better than ever.

JMags said...

I just downloaded this from iTunes and it's a lovely, sparse, rendition. Also, Youngstown is one of my favorite Bruce songs.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Now I know what to do with my 30% off coupon from Borders.