Wednesday, January 15, 2014


These articles originally appeared in the 1.16.14 issue of Metroland

Bettye Lavette
Helsinki on Hudson
January 11, 2014

            One of the many great things about Club Helsinki is its ability get folks to play who have no business playing a club.  Such is the case with Bettye Lavette, who while is often categorized as a blues singer, is to my ears one of the best soul singers on the planet.

            At once gracious, dignified, and profoundly raw and funky, Lavette and her ace four-piece band opened with a beguiling cover of the Beatles’ “The Word” (I didn’t recognize it until the very end) and then laid out 75 minutes of absolute magic.  Looking, moving, and sounding decades younger than her 68 years, she sings as though possessed, as if every cell of her body is feeling and interpreting every word, every nuance of her rich catalog.  As she said, “I’m more of a song interpreter than a mellifluous singer.” 

            And what interpretations... “Here’s a song that’s most commonly associated with Chevrolet pickup trucks” she deadpanned.  Half-way through the first verse of “Like A Rock” Bob Seger’s original faded entirely from memory.  Lavette may have well been doing an entirely different, and infinitely richer song.  She did back-to-back Neil Young tunes, “Everybody Knows This Ain’t Nowhere” (!!!) and a hushed, ethereal “Heart of Gold”.

            I saw her a year and a half ago and was struck that she sang nothing from her prolific early career—as she explained Saturday “I didn’t play those songs for a long time because you all didn’t buy them, so I figured you all didn’t like ‘em.  Then I realized I recorded them because I liked ‘em” and she proceeded to sing her bouncy, saucy 1962 single “My Man He’s a Lovin’ Man”.

            She ended the set with her epic version of the Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me”, turning the blowhard standard into something gut-wrenching and profound (If you haven’t seen her Kennedy Center Honors performance of this, go to YouTube right now and watch it.  You’re welcome).  The entire room may as well have been one big goose bump.

January 12, 2014


            I could really just stop there.

            A couple years ago I caught Trombone Shorty opening for Bootsy Collins at the Montreal Jazz Festival.  I didn’t know anything about him.  At the time, I wrote “Trombone Shorty nee Troy Andrews is hands down the most incredible individual performer I have ever seen.”

            Now, everybody knows music writers have serious hyperbole issues.  Well, after seeing Shorty & band again Sunday night, I emphatically reaffirm the above ridiculous statement.  He really is.

            The young, killer band came out and laid down some killer metal-funk.  Sarge leaned over and said “I half expect to see Rob Halford come out on a Harley.”  Then Shorty comes skipping out waiving his trombone in one hand and his trumpet in the other.  And the games began. The show started at this intensity level way up there and then got more intense.  And more intense.  I’ve been to a lot of shows at The Egg, and I’ve never seen an audience there go this bonkers.  I’m talking apeshit bonkers here, a good three generations of folks going crazy, for the whole damn show. 

            Funk.  Blues.  Rock.  Classical.  Hip-hop.  Jazz.  Soul.  Nods to Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway.  Sometimes stacked up in a matter of seconds.  Sometimes all at once.  Staggering and mind-blowing.  And plenty loud.  Good loud!  Last time I saw him he did a circular breathing thing on the trumpet, holding a note for several minutes.  This time he did it on the freakin’ trombone...  That’s ridiculous.  Dude’s gonna hurt himself.

            Shorty took a number of solos on his horns that were complex, sophisticated, and stunning.  He sings like an angel.  He’s got the coolest moves: his James Brown shimmy- turned-moonwalk was one of many bring-the-house-down moments.  He was generous with his shaggy, muscular band (drums, bass, guitar and two saxes) who all got plenty of star-turns and who were, to a man, on time.

            The show ended with the entire band bashing out a huge second-line beat on the drumset.  It was stupid, fun, and oh so funky.


At 4:09 AM, Blogger Roger Owen Green said...

You should buy the album that has The Word on it, and it ends with that live version of Love Reign O'er Me


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