Music Review: Bettye LaVette’s ‘Blackbirds’

I have commented a time or two about cover records and the reasons that an artist might spend time and effort to release such a project; a tribute to music that moved them?  A  placeholder in their catalog?  A reimagining that turns the original on its head? 

Bettye LaVette is so skilled and genuine in her approach to interpretation, I forget to remember that the lion share of her projects are based on non-original material.  Ten albums in and I never tire of listening to her expression of the music: from the source to her ears, to her heart, to her voice and then, to us.

It’s fitting that she starts things off with a Nina Simone song (a gold standard in renditions).  “I Hold No Grudge” features a pulsing keyboard flow, with a guitar line that is pure Mark Knopfler/Dire Straits, played with grace by session maverick Smokey Hormel.  Lyrically, forgiveness is given over to acceptance, but not one step further.  Bettye’s vocals on this song and the following “One More Song,” originally sung by Sharon Robinson, showcase her full command of every note she is compelled to share.

This record is Bettye’s tribute to the many women who came before, illuminating the way.  I can’t help but wonder who is paying attention to her shine.