Bettye LaVette’s ‘Things Have Changed’ and the Take What You Need compilation

Bettye LaVette - Things Have Changed

I’ve only listened to this album once, but I like it a lot. Sultry, gritty, emotional readings of songs I know well.

Joe Levy of Rolling Stone writes:

On the title track of this remarkable collection of Bob Dylan covers, Betty LaVette wraps her voice – full of grit, brass and soul when she started recording at 16 in 1962; worn and sharpened by experience now at 72 – around a lyric about sitting on the lap of strange man with pale skin and an assassin’s eye. The way she tells it, that man could be the song’s author or a villain in an epic of intrigue, or maybe there’s no difference between the two. She makes the song so alive with consequence and possibility, it’s able to transform into whatever she or the listener needs it to be in the moment: a spy movie, a romance novel, a Biblical parable of reckoning, a bittersweet memory of a time when caring mattered or a way of drinking away the pain of that memory.

The tricks and miracles of Things Have Changed are manifold. Half of its 12 tracks restore life to songs that were dead-on-arrival on Dylan albums from 1979 to 1989; the rest reshapes more essential parts of the legend. The grooves constructed by drummer and producer Steve Jordan have both the booming precision of hip-hop loops and the flexible responsiveness of classic R&B. This is tradition-based music that extends the heritage it draws from. “It Ain’t Me Babe” sways over a slow soul pulse as LaVette’s phrasing pulls the song in different directions, opening up unexpected pockets of defiance or mourning. LaVette and Jordan reframe “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” as swamp-rock, its talk of the rising waters of change suddenly connecting to all of Dylan’s apocalyptic tales and its new reverbed guitar hook suddenly definitive.

On Oh Mercy, Dylan delivered “Political World” like an end-days shopping list. What was once an inert litany of decay rolls and tumbles here over a spare bass line and guitar punctuation from Keith Richards.

(click here to continue reading Review: Bettye LaVette’s ‘Things Have Changed’ – Rolling Stone.)

Check it out…

Take What You Need

Coincidentally, I also picked up a copy of Take What You Need this week, another album of Bob Dylan covers…

From a blog called The Fat Angel Sings:

Any of Dylan’s songs were up for grabs and the enlightening, entertaining new 22-track compilation “Take What You Need: UK Covers of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69” charts the early days of these endeavours on this side of the Atlantic. The oldest track is The Fairies’ version of “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”, issued on 31st July 1964. The latest are five tracks from 1969 which range from Joe Cocker to Sandie Shaw, and Fairport Convention to the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber-sponsored The Mixed Bag.

Britain, though, was initially resistant to Dylan’s charms. He had been in London at the end of 1962 and appeared on television, as well as live at The Troubadour and other folk clubs. As the fine liner notes say, “few on the British scene were taken with Dylan; most were at best indifferent or, in the case of arch traditionalists Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl, completely dismissive.” There was one exception: the open-minded Martin Carthy. He alone was not going to help Dylan’s recognition.

Take What You Need kicks off with The Fairies’ bouncy “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”, which features session-era Jimmy Page on guitar. It’s followed by Marianne Faithfull’s Baez-style “Blowin’ in the Wind” (on which Pageprobably also appears). She sings preciously, as if afraid of the song. The Fairies blast away with nary a care for the nature of the source material. This twin-track approach courses through the compilation: wholesale reinterpretation versus on-eggshells respect for what’s being recorded.

(click here to continue reading Take What You Need: UK Covers of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69 | The Fat Angel Sings.)

—update– April 5, 2018

Should have included this great interview with Ms. LaVette

I didn’t learn anything about me as an artist. If I didn’t know all about me as an artist I wouldn’t have taken on the project in the first place. I did, however, find out more about him. I know him so much better now because I had to, with him writing these vignettes, I had to get into them to put them into my mouth, and there’s no way I could get into them without getting into the writer. If you listen to 12 songs, then you really have a crash course on Bob Dylan. And so I found out that I finished his arguments for him. He’s always arguing in his songs all the time, and he’ll go all the way up to the line and say “Go jump off the ledge,” or whatever. “I’ll push you.” And so, what I did was I pushed people off the ledge that he wanted pushed off.

I also found that Bob could be tender but he can’t be tender. I had to be tender for him. “Emotionally Yours,” actually, makes me cry at this point, and so does “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight.” I mean, he is actually begging someone not to do something. When my keyboard player started slowing down the tempo a little, I said “Oh, my goodness, he’s begging!” I never heard him do that before. So I had to go and beg for him. “Emotionally Yours” is just a surrender: “I always will be emotionally yours. No matter what happens, he will come. Do anything you want to do with me.” I said, “Oh, you sneaky little rascal, you!” I never knew he could feel like that. He made me find it out by myself. He won’t tell it to me on his recordings. I had to go to bed with these songs to find out what these songs are about. But I am telling you, if I ever do get this little rascal in a room alone, I’m going to say, “Do you know what I know about you?” But that was all I could do. The songs had to belong to me. I don’t tributize anyone. This is my 57th year in show business, and I don’t cover nothing. If you cover stuff … I don’t know why you would cover stuff.

He writes these vignettes. He writes arguments. He writes grievances. He doesn’t write any love stories. It’s not, “We met, we kissed, it wound up like this.” With Bob, it always winds up badly, even if they did meet and kiss. And so he doesn’t write poetry, he writes prose, and by that I mean that it’s always logical or practical. It’s “I’ve given you all the ins and outs and I’ve done nothing but make you sad, so why don’t you go on and leave?” There’s no poetry in that. That’s the logic and practicality of it: “Why don’t you leave, because I’ve already said I don’t want you.”

(click here to continue reading Bettye LaVette Talks Singing Bob Dylan Songs, Bruno Mars – Rolling Stone.)

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