It’s one thing to have a great voice, quite another to know how to bend and break it to personalize a song. On Bettye LaVette’s new album, Things Have Changed – her first major label recording since 1982 – she cracks open the Bob Dylan songbook and reinvents 12 mostly lesser known tunes as her own. But don’t call her a cover artist. She’s a highly skilled interpreter, informed by 55 years in the music industry, a lot of ups, and mostly downs. Originally from Michigan, LaVette cut her teeth as a singer by sneaking underage into Detroit clubs and hanging with musicians. It was a hotbed of early Motown action, and she eventually got to play and tour with up-and-comers like Otis Redding, Ben E. King, and James Brown. But her recording career never took off in the same way as her peers due to personal missteps and the industry mis-marketing her eclectic style.
LaVette, who describes her own voice as “very gruff,” has a signature catch in her delivery, ample rasp, and a penchant for singing a beat behind the melody. The coalescence allows her to sharply emote sadness, anger, weariness, authority and rawness like few other artists. Through decades of lean years and sheer perseverance, her unique expression is paying off and she’s finally earning her due. On Things Have Changed, folky Dylan becomes fiery funk, island jam, seductive soul. Give LaVette’s new work a spin and let us know what you think. But don’t call it a cover album. It’s a discover album.