Bettye LaVette

Thankful N' Thoughtful

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Bettye LaVette gets classified as an R&B singer, which she is, of course, but her newest album, the Craig Street-produced Thankful N' Thoughtful, finds her taking her blues, gospel, and soul-influenced singing style into deep, swampy, and edgy American roots territory, and she makes it all work with a sting and bite to her phrasing that ranks her as one of the best living soul singers. She gives Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" a little jump of joy, moving the song away from being plaintive and lonely to something closer to anxious homesickness. Tom Waits' "Yesterday Is Here," complete with brass and reeds, loses some of its clang and becomes a poignant blues. The most stunning track here is LaVette's reinvention of the old folk song "Dirty Old Town," best known in the version by the Pogues. She fills it with disgust and ominous menace -- there's also a slower version of "Dirty Old Town" that lets a measure of sadness creep back in at the close of the album. Thankful N' Thoughtful is a solid outing from an outstanding singer who knows how to growl, croon, grumble, praise, and jump for joy with her vocal phrasing -- whatever makes the song live and breathe. She is still a marvel.

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