Veteran soul singer-songwriter, Bettye Lavette, will perform her newest album in its entirety Saturday night at the Greenwich Odeum in East Greenwich. The album has received praise from critics for transforming songs written by Bob Dylan, infusing them with LaVette's own expression and emotions.
"He never expresses any emotion, but I express emotion in everything."
In the album's title track, LaVette takes Dylan’s Oscar-winning song from 2000, "Things Have Changed," flips the gender, slows it down and takes a more emotional approach than you might expect on this song of alienation from the world.
Reaching her by phone at her home in New Jersey, I told LaVette that for me, one thing had changed: Her version of this song is my new favorite.
"It falls into my mouth so easily, I feel like he wrote it for me."
"Oh baby, thank you! I really love that song as well," she enthused. "It's so comfortable, it falls into my mouth so easily, I feel like he wrote it for me."
For the most part, though, Lavette, who is 72, said she had to study the material. She wasn’t that familiar with Dylan or his music before embarking on this project.
"You know, he wasn't played a lot on black radio," LaVette explained. "So I've used listening to the songs and the words as a guideline. I feel like I know as much about him now as anyone who knows him."
And one thing she knows – Dylan is secretive. He doesn’t easily reveal what he’s singing about, or how he feels.
"Well he hides from y'all in songs cause y'all just hear the words. He never expresses any emotion," said LaVette. "But I express emotion in everything, so that was the part that I was looking for. And I would not go away until I found it."
That’s apparent in LaVette’s take on "Mama You’ve Been On My Mind," a song from the mid-60s that Dylan wrote about an ex-girlfriend. When LaVette sings it, the song is about her mother, a real emotional trigger for her.
"I try to put my mind somewhere else when I’m singing it, because only in movies can you sing and cry, your throat just closes up. And when we were recording it, at the end, I kind of almost fell apart," LaVette said. "And they wouldn’t let me do it over. They said, no, that’s the part we want."