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In concert: Bettye LaVette at 9:30 club

bettye lavetteBettye LaVette, pictured here in the film "Blues Divas," brought her booming voice to 9:30 club on Thursday. (Courtesy of Robert Mugge)

By Chris Klimek

She can match near-contemporaries Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner in talent, but Detroit soul diva Bettye LaVette has spent the majority of her 48-year career struggling. After she found modest success with a handful of immodestly terrific singles in the ’60s, Atlantic Records buried the already-completed 1972 album intended to break her out, and her career didn’t rebound until the iTunes era. Her strong 21st-century albums are powered by a voice whose clarion power is now shot through with decades of disappointment and resolve.

No wonder she seemed thrilled to headline the 9:30 club last night, even if the place looked to be only about a third full. LaVette must have noticed the elbow room, but she brought as much grit and enthusiasm to her 85-minute program, dominated by ’60s and ’70s standards, as she does when she sings for presidents (two, she noted proudly).

Her new album, "Interpretations," finds her mining the British rock songbook, with mixed results. The opening refit of The Beatles’ "The Word" didn’t take to the lite-funk chassis her four-piece band gave it, but a few moment later, her scorching take on George Harrison’s "Isn’t It a Pity" hushed the audience into a reverent silence.

After her band’s coda to "You Don’t Know Me at All" drove her to dance a little too hard, she allowed herself "a senior citizen moment," folding herself into a lotus pose at the the foot of the stage to deliver a devastating "Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me." She closed with an a cappella exorcism of Sinead O’Connor’s "I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got." That one of the most recent songs she sang was also one of the best said everything about how she remains, at 64, a forward-looking artist.

By David Malitz  |  June 25, 2010; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Bettye LaVette  
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