The Jazz Café in Camden Town may have just been sold by its owner HMV along with nearby venue Barfly, a big Manchester venue the Ritz, and the east London Groove Armada-associated festival Lovebox in a £7.3m deal to a soul-less private equity firm.
But that won’t make any difference to the soulful legend set to appear at the venue next week. It may even spur her on. Because in a swan song, maybe, for a club that has become a fun plaything for corporate financiers in recent weeks, it’s the great soul and R&B singer from Detroit, Bettye LaVette coming in to play a rare date.
She’s celebrating 50 years in the music business as a performer, released a pulsatingly different new album Thankful N’ Thoughtful, and she’s written a gripping autobiography A Woman Like Me, with David Ritz.
A librarian she is not. Like Jimmy Scott, who Ritz has also written about, Bettye LaVette has had more than her fair share of ups and downs over the years and was a star and then wasn’t, then kind of became one again for a variety of reasons which the book goes into readable detail about.
On Thankful the Detroiter teams with Craig Street, the producer who turned Cassandra Wilson’s career right around in the 1990s when he worked with the Mississipian on the superb Blue Light Til Dawn in the 1990s on which Wilson moved beyond her comfort zone for the first time to absolutely devastating effect. His touch, and that voice, makes LaVette’s latest ready-made for jazz fans to dip their toes in soulsville once more.
LaVette because of the nature of the kind of soul and R&B she thrives on (roughly Tina Turner land) maybe didn’t have to make such a leap with Street, and as she dips in and out of different styles gives each of them her own emotively compelling life force.
The tracks are an astute mix of genre-denying tunes, and I have been hitting replay on Bob Dylan’s ‘Everything is Broken’ and the leftfield folk singer Patty Griffin’s song ‘Time Will Do The Talking’, which is just remarkable. Who would have thought such alchemy could have been achieved? It’s the measure of LaVette as an artist that this has occurred at all.
There are plenty of other goodies rattling around on the album including material by the Black Keys, Tom Waits and Neil Young, and LaVette manages even to breathe new life into Gnarls Barkley’s done-to-death ‘Crazy’, in itself a neat trick.
LaVette’s band on the record is Chris Bruce, guitar; Jonathan Wilson guitar, banjo; Glenn Patscha, piano, keys; Jennifer Condos, bass; JJ Johnson, drums, percussion; Steven Bernstein of Sex Mob on ‘Yesterday Is Here’; and Douglas Wieselman, reeds on the same track.
I’m not sure who her band in Camden will be on the night just yet. Doesn’t really matter to an extent. But do yourself a favour: and get down to Parkway before the equity fund people ruin the place for good. With the festive season and January gloom around the corner, and before changes kick in at the venue, it might just be the last time.
Bettye LaVette pictured top. Photo: Marina Chavez