Posted: 25 Jul 2014
Let’s get the major question out of the way first – yes, she can still sing.
The worry when spending time in the presence of a “living legend” is that time
hasn’t been kind and 50 years of singing has taken its toll – look no further
than Smokey Robinson’s “performance” on a recent TV special from Edinburgh – a
convincing argument for rebuilding Hadrian’s Wall….
In Bettye’s case, a rather less-than-convincing appearance on “Later” a couple of years ago didn’t
inspire confidence, but after opening with sturdy covers of Free’s “The Stealer” and Bob Dylan’s “Everything is Broken”, she confidently
carried off her biggest hit, “Let Me Down
Easy” from 1965 (recently rediscovered and revisited by both Mick Hucknall
and Paloma Faith.)
This self-confessed Anglophile who worked in Europe during years of
indifference in the USA then dipped into her album of covers by female singers
for “Joy” by Lucinda Williams –
confirming that more than one round of Martinis had been shared when the pair
met. You wouldn’t want to settle that bar bill.
A mixed bag of tracks then followed, ranging from 1965’s vaguely raunchy “John Henry Made A Woman Out of Me” to “Love Reign O’er Me” – the latter a Who
cover whose forceful interpretation banished any lingering doubt of her vocal
prowess at the age of 68. A righteous reworking of Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” meanwhile mercifully
excluded the Percy Edwards chirping.
Bringing further variety to proceedings, her four piece band were then
augmented by the 40-piece Summertyne Country Choir, who added their voices to “Close as I'll Get to Heaven.”
Concluding with one more left-field selection, Bettye revisited“Salt of the Earth” from the Rolling
Stones album “Beggars Banquet.” Containing
the line, “raise a glass to the hard-working people”, a few post-gig tinctures
were richly deserved and perhaps the secret of her longevity. Cheers!