Review Of “Betty LaVette: Child Of The Seventies”

“Betty LaVette: Child Of The Seventies” was released in 2006. It contains all of Betty LaVette’s recordings for Atlantic records including the 12 brilliant tracks that were intended  to make up her first album, “Child Of The Seventies”. Inexplicably the album was shelved prior to its planned release in 1973. Nevertheless, the songs are among the very finest that Betty ever recorded.

Betty (later Bettye) LaVette is one of soul music’s greatest and most enduring artists. She employs her distinctive, rough-edged voice flawlessly to produce a wide range of tonal colours amidst breathtaking dynamics. She has a gift for conveying the deepest of human emotions, forging a powerful empathetic bond with her listeners.

Betty LaVette was born Betty Haskin in Muskegon, Michigan in 1946. Unlike most soul singers she didn’t learn to sing in church, but instead with her family in Detroit. Betty began her recording career as a teenager for Atlantic Records, and had singles released on a number of labels throughout the 1960’s. In 1972 Betty signed once again with Atlantic Records, and two singles came out on the company’s Atco label.

The second Atco single emerged from nine days of recording at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama in November, 1972. Brad Shapiro produced the 12 tracks that were supposed to make up the album, “Child Of The Seventies”. But, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Atlantic decided not to release the album.To this day no one really seems to know why. Given the superb quality of the recordings it was quite plainly an ill-considered and inexcusable decision.

Through the heroic efforts of French soul music aficionado, Giles Petard, the missing master tapes were located in Atlantic’s New York vaults in 1999. Giles licensed the 12 tracks plus the remainder of Betty’s Atlantic releases, and put it all on a CD that came out in 2000 under the title, “Souvenirs”.

In 2006 the CD, “Child Of The Seventies”, was released. It included all of the material on “Souvenirs” along with two previously unreleased tracks and mono versions of two songs. The first 12 selections on the CD are the ones that were to be included on the unreleased album. Brad Shapiro is masterful in the producer’s chair, and the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios band accompanies Betty with a deft and sensitive touch.

“It Ain’t Easy” is a mid-paced slice of southern soul that is an ideal vehicle for Betty’s vocal skills. It’s followed by a country soul ballad, “If I Can’t Be Your Woman”, that demonstrates Betty’s exceptional versatility. Next up is “Fortune Teller” which gives Betty a chance to gently express a sense of hopeful longing.

Then comes the song that was released as a single in 1973. “Your Turn To Cry” ranks among Betty’s greatest performances. The depth of sadness and heartache that she expresses so sensitively makes this a certifiable deep soul classic. The contrasting flip side, “Soul Tambourine”,  is a catchy, bouncing serving of joy that amply benefits from the LaVette treatment.

“All Of The Black And white Children” is a message song notable for its lack of sanctimony. Betty’s treatment is pleasingly sincere and uplifting. In “Our Own Love Song” Betty takes the listener into a world filled with the sweet tenderness and unshakable bond of true love.

Betty shows a spirited toughness in “Ain’t Nothing Gonna Change Me” before offering some woman to woman advice in the southern flavoured “Outside Woman”. Then she takes charge of things with the funky “The Stealer”. “My Love Is Showing” gives Betty the chance to express the vulnerability  and helplessness of real devotion.

The twelfth and final selection from what should have been Atlantic’s release of “Child Of The Seventies” is, in a word, sublime. “Souvenirs” is an absolute gem of a deep southern soul ballad. Betty infuses every word with the pain of longing and loss.

Rarely have I heard an album’s worth of songs of such high quality. Betty emerges as a complete singer with a range and depth of expression that elevates her to the top level of soul artists.

The remainder of the CD includes the rest of Betty’s recorded work for Atlantic records. First come two tracks produced by Clarence Paul at Bolic Sound Studios in Los Angeles in late 1973. Neither cut saw the light of day until the 2006 release of the CD.

“Waiting For Tomorrow” was written by Betty herself. She is in top form in this searing tale of frustrated hope. Once again I am flabbergasted that Atlantic declined to release this sensational track. The hard-edged “Livin’ On A Shoestring” would have made a worthy B side.

Following mono versions of 1973’s “Your Turn To Cry” and “Soul Tambourine” we’re taken back to Betty’s 1972 Atco single. Both sides were recorded in Detroit. Betty’s cover of Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold” is a pleasantly soulful take on the original while “You’ll Wake Up Wiser” is a rather commercial latin flavoured track.

The last four songs on the CD come from a decade earlier when Betty was still in her teens. The single with “Here I Am” and “You’ll Never Change” was recorded in Detroit and came out in 1963 as a follow-up to Betty’s first release a year earlier. Neither cut is terribly memorable. However, that first single, also recorded in Detroit, is another matter entirely. In “My Man – He’s A Lovin’ Man” the 16 year old Betty delivers a performance worthy of a woman of the world. Unsurprisingly it made it into the top ten on the R&B chart, a feat that Betty was never able to duplicate again. Go figure. The flip side, “Shut Your Mouth”, is a more commercial pop outing.

After her second and final stint with Atlantic Records in the 1970’s Betty LaVette never stopped trying to make it. Hers is a story of incredible determination and resilience. At long last, after more than four decades of striving, Betty began to get the recognition and appreciation for her vocal artistry that she deserved. The emergence of the long-buried Atlantic album  cemented her position as one of soul music’s greatest singers. The CD, “Betty LaVette: Child Of The Seventies”, is a must for every soul enthusiast’s collection.

 

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