Bettye LaVette revealed herself once again as a brilliant voice in R&B in a special set of songs that wove deeply through her personal history. She performed only with piano accompaniment at Joe's Pub this Sunday.
I sometimes find it hard to pay attention to the content of a performance when I'm photographing, the visual observation takes over and the music slips back into a hypnotic, subconscious part of my brain. What struck me about this performance is that Bettye's masterful narration of a song could take me through every single word of a lyric. 'Elanor Rigby', the Beatles song already covered to death in the soul circuit, became fresh and vivid. 'A Change is Gonna Come', the mournful Sam Cooke civil rights anthem that has become diluted as as a torch song for countless artists, was transformed into a crystal-clear story of painful suffering and redemption. Of the hundreds of times I had heard this song, I don't think I was even made to listen as closely as I was that night.