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Bettye Lavette - Blackbirds

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Blackbirds

Bettye LaVette

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Singer Bettye LaVette has made a career of overcoming adversity, bad timing and cruel music business vagaries. And so who better, at a time when America is reckoning with privilege and inequality, to bring fresh pathos and pique to the ever-powerful anti-lynching call, "Strange Fruit." On Blackbirds, she slowly climbs the mountain that is Billie Holiday's most famous number in a spare rendition—just piano chords, electric guitar notes and brushes on the snare—that allows her to linger on every word. The socially relevant timing of her latest collection is sustained by the title track, LaVette's very personalized interpretation of Paul McCartney's folk hymn to America's racial infamy that she first unveiled in 2010 at the Hollywood Bowl.

Once advised that learning to sing standards would make her eternally employable—and unaware that her song selection on Blackbirds would meet the current moment with such force—LaVette, whose career was relaunched in the aughts with a series of albums on the Anti label, decided with this album to tackle tunes from the Great American Songbook most closely associated with great African-American female singers like Ruth Brown, Nancy Wilson and the aforementioned Billie Holiday. She wastes no time laying out her guiding principles in the opener, "I Hold No Grudge," a number first heard on Nina Simone's High Priestess of Soul album: "I hold no grudge/ Deep inside me there's no regrets/ But a gal who's been forgotten may forgive/ But never once forget."

With a vocal instrument that's grown creakier but also wiser with age, LaVette adds layers of stylized reflection—as well as bursts of rascally spirit—to this cabaret-like set of mostly downbeat ballads. Produced by drummer Steve Jordan (who helmed her previous album Things Have Changed), and working with a quintet that features multi-talented guitarist Smokey Hormel (Beck, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits), Blackbirds was recorded at Brooklyn Recording by engineer Dave O'Donnell who unerringly captures the timbre and subtle inflections of LaVette's emphatic singing. The mood lightens for a moment in a keyboard-led version of Lil' Green's sexy "Romance in the Dark," before easing into the unavoidably heart-wrenching "Drinking Again," one of Dinah Washington's signature numbers where the sharp rasp of LaVette's voice accentuates the song's poignance. A shrewd stylist climbing inside songs to discover, decry and universalize. © Robert Baird/Qobuz

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Blackbirds

Bettye Lavette

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1
I Hold No Grudge
00:05:00

STEVE JORDAN, Producer, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Angelo Badalamenti, ComposerLyricist - Bettye LaVette, Vocals, MainArtist, AssociatedPerformer - Greg Calbi, Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel - DAVE O'DONNELL, Mixer, Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Leon Pendarvis, Keyboards, AssociatedPerformer - Andy Taub, Asst. Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Smokey Hormel, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Tom Barney, Bass Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Nioka Workman, Cello, AssociatedPerformer - John Clifford, ComposerLyricist - Rose Bartu, Violin, AssociatedPerformer - Ina Paris, Violin, AssociatedPerformer - Charisa Rouse, Violin, AssociatedPerformer - Brandon Unpingco, Assistant Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel

A Verve Records release; ℗ 2020 UMG Recordings, Inc.

2
One More Song
00:05:21

STEVE JORDAN, Producer, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Bettye LaVette, Vocals, MainArtist, AssociatedPerformer - Greg Calbi, Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel - DAVE O'DONNELL, Mixer, Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Leon Pendarvis, Keyboards, AssociatedPerformer - Andy Taub, Asst. Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Sharon Robinson, ComposerLyricist - Smokey Hormel, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Tom Barney, Bass Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Monte Croft, Vibraphone, AssociatedPerformer - Brandon Unpingco, Assistant Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel

A Verve Records release; ℗ 2020 UMG Recordings, Inc.

3
Blues For The Weepers
00:03:46

STEVE JORDAN, Producer, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Bettye LaVette, Vocals, MainArtist, AssociatedPerformer - Greg Calbi, Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel - DAVE O'DONNELL, Mixer, Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Leon Pendarvis, Keyboards, AssociatedPerformer - Andy Taub, Asst. Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Smokey Hormel, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Tom Barney, Bass Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Lee Magid, ComposerLyricist - Brandon Unpingco, Assistant Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel

A Verve Records release; ℗ 2020 UMG Recordings, Inc.

4
Book Of Lies
00:03:40

Danny Small, ComposerLyricist - STEVE JORDAN, Producer, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Bettye LaVette, Vocals, MainArtist, AssociatedPerformer - Greg Calbi, Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel - DAVE O'DONNELL, Mixer, Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Leon Pendarvis, Keyboards, AssociatedPerformer - Andy Taub, Asst. Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Smokey Hormel, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Tom Barney, Bass Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Connie Moore, ComposerLyricist - Brandon Unpingco, Assistant Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel

A Verve Records release; ℗ 2020 UMG Recordings, Inc.

5
Romance In The Dark
00:04:18

STEVE JORDAN, Producer, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Bettye LaVette, Vocals, MainArtist, AssociatedPerformer - Greg Calbi, Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel - DAVE O'DONNELL, Mixer, Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Lil Green, ComposerLyricist - Leon Pendarvis, Keyboards, AssociatedPerformer - Andy Taub, Asst. Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Smokey Hormel, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Tom Barney, Bass Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Brandon Unpingco, Assistant Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel

A Verve Records release; ℗ 2020 UMG Recordings, Inc.

6
Drinking Again
00:05:36

STEVE JORDAN, Producer, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Johnny Mercer, ComposerLyricist - Bettye LaVette, Vocals, MainArtist, AssociatedPerformer - Greg Calbi, Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel - DAVE O'DONNELL, Mixer, Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Leon Pendarvis, Keyboards, AssociatedPerformer - Andy Taub, Asst. Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Smokey Hormel, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - DORIS TAUBER, ComposerLyricist - Tom Barney, Bass Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Nioka Workman, Cello, AssociatedPerformer - Monte Croft, Vibraphone, AssociatedPerformer - Rose Bartu, Violin, AssociatedPerformer - Ina Paris, Violin, AssociatedPerformer - Charisa Rouse, Violin, AssociatedPerformer - Brandon Unpingco, Assistant Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel

A Verve Records release; ℗ 2020 UMG Recordings, Inc.

7
Strange Fruit
00:04:14

STEVE JORDAN, Producer, Drums, Vibraphone, AssociatedPerformer - Bettye LaVette, Vocals, MainArtist, AssociatedPerformer - Greg Calbi, Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel - DAVE O'DONNELL, Mixer, Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Leon Pendarvis, Keyboards, AssociatedPerformer - Andy Taub, Asst. Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Lewis Allan, ComposerLyricist - Smokey Hormel, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Tom Barney, Bass Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Nioka Workman, Cello, AssociatedPerformer - Rose Bartu, Violin, AssociatedPerformer - Ina Paris, Violin, AssociatedPerformer - Charisa Rouse, Violin, AssociatedPerformer - Brandon Unpingco, Assistant Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel

A Verve Records release; ℗ 2020 UMG Recordings, Inc.

8
Save Your Love For Me
00:04:50

STEVE JORDAN, Producer, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Bettye LaVette, Vocals, MainArtist, AssociatedPerformer - Greg Calbi, Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel - DAVE O'DONNELL, Mixer, Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Buddy Johnson, ComposerLyricist - Leon Pendarvis, Keyboards, AssociatedPerformer - Andy Taub, Asst. Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Smokey Hormel, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Tom Barney, Bass Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Monte Croft, Vibraphone, AssociatedPerformer - Brandon Unpingco, Assistant Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel

A Verve Records release; ℗ 2020 UMG Recordings, Inc.

9
Blackbird
00:03:28

STEVE JORDAN, Producer, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - John Lennon, Author - Paul Mccartney, Author - Bettye LaVette, Vocals, MainArtist, AssociatedPerformer - Greg Calbi, Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel - DAVE O'DONNELL, Mixer, Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Leon Pendarvis, Keyboards, AssociatedPerformer - Andy Taub, Asst. Recording Engineer, StudioPersonnel - Smokey Hormel, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Tom Barney, Bass Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Nioka Workman, Cello, AssociatedPerformer - Rose Bartu, Violin, AssociatedPerformer - Ina Paris, Violin, AssociatedPerformer - Charisa Rouse, Violin, AssociatedPerformer - Brandon Unpingco, Assistant Mastering Engineer, StudioPersonnel

A Verve Records release; ℗ 2020 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Album Description

Singer Bettye LaVette has made a career of overcoming adversity, bad timing and cruel music business vagaries. And so who better, at a time when America is reckoning with privilege and inequality, to bring fresh pathos and pique to the ever-powerful anti-lynching call, "Strange Fruit." On Blackbirds, she slowly climbs the mountain that is Billie Holiday's most famous number in a spare rendition—just piano chords, electric guitar notes and brushes on the snare—that allows her to linger on every word. The socially relevant timing of her latest collection is sustained by the title track, LaVette's very personalized interpretation of Paul McCartney's folk hymn to America's racial infamy that she first unveiled in 2010 at the Hollywood Bowl.

Once advised that learning to sing standards would make her eternally employable—and unaware that her song selection on Blackbirds would meet the current moment with such force—LaVette, whose career was relaunched in the aughts with a series of albums on the Anti label, decided with this album to tackle tunes from the Great American Songbook most closely associated with great African-American female singers like Ruth Brown, Nancy Wilson and the aforementioned Billie Holiday. She wastes no time laying out her guiding principles in the opener, "I Hold No Grudge," a number first heard on Nina Simone's High Priestess of Soul album: "I hold no grudge/ Deep inside me there's no regrets/ But a gal who's been forgotten may forgive/ But never once forget."

With a vocal instrument that's grown creakier but also wiser with age, LaVette adds layers of stylized reflection—as well as bursts of rascally spirit—to this cabaret-like set of mostly downbeat ballads. Produced by drummer Steve Jordan (who helmed her previous album Things Have Changed), and working with a quintet that features multi-talented guitarist Smokey Hormel (Beck, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits), Blackbirds was recorded at Brooklyn Recording by engineer Dave O'Donnell who unerringly captures the timbre and subtle inflections of LaVette's emphatic singing. The mood lightens for a moment in a keyboard-led version of Lil' Green's sexy "Romance in the Dark," before easing into the unavoidably heart-wrenching "Drinking Again," one of Dinah Washington's signature numbers where the sharp rasp of LaVette's voice accentuates the song's poignance. A shrewd stylist climbing inside songs to discover, decry and universalize. © Robert Baird/Qobuz

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