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Bettye LaVette at the Jazz Cafe, 5 Things To Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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Bettye LaVette isn’t just blowin’ in the wind on her latest release.

The Muskegon-born, Detroit-raised singer’s latest album, “Things Have Changed,” finds her diving into the works of Bob Dylan, taking on a dozen of his songs with the help of producer Steve Jordan and a crack band, including guests Keith Richards and Trombone Shorty. It’s another high mark in a career that’s been in high-gear since LaVette returned to recording in 2003 -- including a Grammy Award nomination for 2016’s “Worthy” and a Blues Music Award that year as Soul Blues Female Artist of the Year.

It’s been 15 years of seeing the real LaVette at last, and there’ll be plenty more to come if she has her way...

• “Things Have Changed” was the brainchild of executive producer Carol Friedman, a photographer who shot images for LaVette’s last two albums. “She’s a great, great Bob Dylan fan,” LaVette, 72, says. “She grew up listening to Bob Dylan just like I grew up drinking corn liquor and listening to the jukebox. And she was a great fan of mine. It’s been her dream to hear us combined, so I said OK.”

• Though LaVette sang “Most of the Time” for a 2012 Dylan tribute album, she doesn’t consider herself a particular fan or devotee. “Growing up I was almost strictly Rhythm & Blues, so I never did get into Bob Dylan,” says LaVette, who enlisted her husband Kevin Kiley to help her select songs for “Things Have Changed.” “The influence of his music is not on me. So when I had to come up with 12 Bob Dylan songs, I didn’t know ‘em. So Kevin listened to 75 songs or something like that and we got a list together and figured out which ones I wanted to tackle.”

• LaVette did get some insight by immersing herself in Dylan’s songs, however. “They have his personality, his character,” she explains. “He’s arguing about something all the time, just like an old woman. I said, ‘Damn, I’m an old woman. Maybe that’s what he is, too.’ That’s the part that relates to me. But they go on and on and on. He never concludes his arguments. There’s so many words...We had to take as many as four verses out of some songs to get to the point.”

• LaVette met Dylan just once, at a festival in Italy where both were playing. Instructed to keep the backstage hallway clear because Dylan was on his way to the stage, LaVette remembers that “I’m from Detroit, you know. I’m not gonna do that. I said, ‘Hey, Bobby Dylan!’ He turned around and looked at me and his bass player said, ‘That’s Bettye LaVette.’ Then he walked over to me, grabbed my face in both hands, kissed me full on the mouth and walked away. My whole band fainted.”

• LaVette says that after doing “Things Have Changed” she’s open to the possibility of making another album featuring one songwriter’s work. “Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, they would do songs by one composer. That’s been done by every great signer,” she says. “If I wanted to do it again I could do another contemporary artist that happened in my career lifetime. I don’t want to go back and do what they’re calling the American Songbook -- Cole Porter, Irving Berlin. I’d want to do songs by my contemporaries, Smokey Robinson or Elton John or somebody like that.”

If You Go:

• Bettye LaVette

• 8 p.m. Sunday, April 15.

• The Jazz Cafe in the Music Hall Center, 350 Madison Ave., Detroit.

• Tickets are sold out.

• Call 313-887-8500 or visit musichall.org.

Web Site: www.musichall.org

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