Bettye LaVette: A Place Of Enlightenment

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Soul singer Bettye LaVette takes a George Harrison song and brings out its transcendent serenity. courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Bettye LaVette

Soul singer Bettye LaVette takes a George Harrison song and brings out its transcendent serenity.

courtesy of the artist

Thursday's Pick

  • Song: "Isn't It a Pity"
  • Artist: Bettye LaVette
  • CD: Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook
  • Genre: Soul

At first glance, Bettye LaVette appears extraordinarily diplomatic on her recent album of covers of British rock classics, tackling one song by each of the individual Beatles. Her song choices reinforce the commonly accepted simplifications of the Fab Four's personalities: Ringo's is about resilience, Paul's is about love, John's is a peaceful call to action and George's is about something far bigger than himself.

LaVette digs into George Harrison's song the deepest. Coming from the torrent of material that poured out of Harrison during his opening salvo as an ex-Beatle, "Isn't It a Pity" was originally released in two separate versions on All Things Must Pass, both with the heaving inertia of Phil Spector's grandiose production. LaVette takes her cue from the gentler opening half of version two, which floats around as guitars, strings and voices come and go to create a cosmic swirl.

LaVette's version also floats, but in stillness. Where Harrison and Spector found space inside the instruments, LaVette and her band put it between them, paring the arrangement down to just before its breaking point. The mystically minded Harrison sang the song from a place of enlightenment, in a voice that sounded disappointed but resigned. LaVette was schooled in the tradition of soul music, and her restraint can't disguise the fact that she's so heartbroken over humankind's inability to learn from its mistakes that she achieves an almost transcendent serenity.

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Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook

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Bettye Lavette

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