Bettye LaVette’s Bursting with Bob

Bettye LaVette has proven to be one of the most natural, distinctive and affecting song interpreters of our time. Her soulful, unfiltered renditions are known to dig to levels heretofore unearthed, revealing a newfound power in the songs themselves and often achieving that rare feat of surpassing the originals.

LaVette, 72, has dipped her toe into Bob Dylan’s deep well for material before in recent years – “Everything is Broken” kicked off her 2012 collection Thankful N’ Thoughtful, and that same year she contributed a version of “Most of the Time” to Amnesty International’s Chimes of Freedom Dylan tribute collection. For her new album, Things Have Changed (Verve Records, March 30th), Bettye goes full Bob.

Aside from her performances, which are tremendous, perhaps what is most impressive about Things Have Changed is that is avoids the obvious. That is, it doesn’t mire itself in Dylan’s 1960s material – an enormously fruitful and prolific period for Dylan, no question, but one that tends to be over-emphasized. So, yes, LaVette offers renderings of “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” but those are the two most well known early tracks among the dozen. (The Another Side of Bob Dylan outtake “Mama, You Been On My Mind” also gets a run-through.) Elsewhere she tackles less heralded later gems such as “Going, Going, Gone” from Planet Waves (1974), “Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others)” from Slow Train Coming (1979), “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight” from Infidels (1983), “Seeing the Real You at Last” and “Emotionally Yours” from Empire Burlesque (1985), “Ain’t Talkin’” from Modern Times (2006) and two songs from an obvious favorite of LaVette’s, 1989’s Oh Mercy: “What Was It You Wanted” (featuring Trombone Shorty) and “Political World” (featuring Keith Richards).

Ms. LaVette is touring the album, but, naturally, no Atlanta date has been announced yet.

Photo by Mark Seliger.