Bettye LaVette

(Cherry Red Records)

About 10 years ago, r&b singer Bettye LaVette collaborated with producer Joe Henry for I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise (Anti). On that disc, she unleashed the accumulated raw passion and determination that built up during decades when only devoted fans knew her. Since then, she’s performed on larger stages, but has retained her sharp musical sense. That discernment includes reuniting with Henry and his core team for Worthy. And she continues to interpret a wide range of idioms, with unexpected turns even when covering songwriters she’s drawn from before.

LaVette has never been a belter, and she knows that now is no time to start shouting. Her strength comes through showing that she can enter any song in any way she chooses. That includes a loping pace on Bob Dylan’s “Unbelievable” or a strut she brings to Henry’s “Stop” before whispering in the right places. Alongside Patrick Warren’s piano and Chris Bruce’s acoustic guitar, she packs an emotional punch within a minimal amount of notes on the plaintive “Where A Life Goes.”

While LaVette has covered works by the Rolling Stones and Beatles on Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (Anti, 2010), she continues to find new ways of personalizing their tunes. On “Complicated,” she sings as if she is shyly admitting a hidden trait—an approach unimaginable for Mick Jagger. LaVette also dramatically reworks the tempo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s “Wait” so that it becomes a lament, not the celebration it is on Rubber Soul.

“Step Away” is the sole uptempo track on Worthy, and even here, LaVette sidesteps an obvious big statement, even with the horn lines echoing ’60s r&b. The disc ends with the title track’s message of self-esteem, which she sings in a way that promises she’s not going away anytime soon.