Front Page

The Best Tracks in 2013

CD Shop

Book Store

Search Content/Artists

New Releases

Forthcoming Releases

Back Issues

Serious Soul Chart

Quality Time Cream Cuts

Vintage Soul Top 20

Boogie Tunes Top 20

Album of the Month

CD Reviews

Editorial Columns


Readers' Favourites

Top 20 most visited pages


DEEP # 1/2015 (January)

  Bettye LaVette is the leading lady this time.  She delights us with a new CD, Worthy, which will be released at the end of January, but as a preview below you can read her own comments on the songs on the record.

  After a review of a 2-CD featuring 50s rhythm & blues music, I’ll be visiting my “black bookcase.”  Respect, a new and unauthorized book on Aretha Franklin by David Ritz has caused some controversy, but generally the reception has been positive, to say the least.

  Finally, an authorized TOP-20 list of last year’s best CDs can be found at the very end of this column, and, as you can see, 2014 was the year of outstanding lady singers.

Content and quick links:

Bettye LaVette

New CD release reviews:
Bettye LaVette: Worthy
Various: Speak Easy/The RPM Records Story vol. 2 1954-1957
Aretha Franklin: Sings the Great Diva Classics

Book Reviews:
David Ritz: Respect/The Life of Aretha Franklin

Betty Lavette photo by Carol Friedman


  Bettye takes us on an emotional trip with stops not only at desolate places for soul-searching and reminiscing, but also to sunnier stations with invitations to dance.  Although pain and despair prevail in the interpretations, there’s an underlying positive aspect in the lyrical content of many of these songs.  The background music for the most part is restrained and almost minimalistic – less is more - but it creates a delicate atmosphere for Bettye to express herself.  Bettye’s performance, of course, is as dramatic, intense and emotional as we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years.  Bettye: “I like this CD so much.  I really, really like it.  People don’t get a chance to hear me say that often” (laughing).

  The new CD, Worthy (CDBRED 649;, is released on Cherry Red Records out of the U.K., after four albums on the Anti - label.  “It was a move that my manager, Eric Gardner, recommended.”  However, not all old contacts are lost, since Bettye co-produced this set with Joe Henry, who produced her first Anti- album in 2005, I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise.  “We’ve always talked about doing another album, but the company kept coming up with other ideas.  When we met at Carnegie Hall, at the Paul Simon tribute, a while back, we thought that it would be a good idea to do it now.” 

  In the rhythm section there are actually two of the same musicians that played on that 2005 album, Doyle Bramhall II on guitar and Chris Bruce, another guitarist.  “Chris is playing bass this time on most of the tracks.”  The rest two are Jay Bellerose on drums and percussion and Patrick Warren on piano, organ and Chamberlin, which is a keyboard sampler that preceded the Mellotron.

  The arrangements on many of the tracks on this CD differ significantly from the original recordings.  “The reason the musicians played different from the originals is because I sing them differently.  I always create my own tracks with my voice as opposed to giving the musicians the record and say ‘here, play this in another key’ or whatever.  I always have them write down chord changes or the notes.  In this case these are all excellent musicians.  When I start to sing, that kind of dictates, which way they’re going to go.”

  This time many of the songs derive from rock, folk and country genres.  “My husband, Kevin Kiley, knows every song that was ever written (laughing).  He finds the tunes, and the longer we’re together, the better he knows me and the better he can imagine how I might sing a tune, which is a little different from somebody picking songs for me just because they like the songs.  He comes up with all these songs, I go through them and pick up the ones I like.”

  Before we go into track-by-track analysis and stories behind the songs with Bettye, you can – if you wish – read the full Bettye LaVette story, published in our printed magazine in 2004 and my interview with her based on her second Anti- CD, The Scene of the Crime (2007), at


  Bob Dylan’s fast rocker, Unbelievable, from his 1990 Under the Red Sky album is turned into a mid-tempo, slightly funky groove.  “I think I like to do Bob Dylan’s tunes just to confuse myself, because his lyrics are hard as hell to learn and remember because there are so many of them.  Also almost all his lines are different, even if you can repeat something.”

  When I Was a Young Girl comes from Savoy Brown’s 5th album (Raw Sienna in 1970), and this Chris Youlden penned progressive rock piece is now slowed down to a steady jam.  “That sounds jazzy to me.  It’s so cool.  This time this production belongs to me, whereas before it belonged to the record company.  Then we all had to agree – me, the producer, the record company...  Now it was just me and Joe, because I’m only leasing this thing to Cherry Red.  I introduced When I Was a Young Girl several times before.  Nobody would say yes.”

  Mickey Newbury’s sad and slow country & pop song, Bless Us All, derives from his Rusty Tracks album in 1977.  “Kevin has these one artist fits every once and awhile, and about two years ago he had a Mickey Newbury fit.  He played everything by him, and I think I liked maybe one other tune and Bless Us All.  When I choose the first two or three songs and I kind of see which direction it’s going, then I try to choose the other ones so that they are necessarily not the same kind of songs, but the feeling just doesn’t snatch you from one way to another way.  It has to be connected in a strange kind of way.”

Bettye and Joe Henry (Photo by Kevin Kiley)


  Stop is Joe Henry’s own song, which pads along softly and has a certain tango feel to it.  Madonna cut it under another title (Don’t Tell Me) in 2000, Joe himself a year later and it has been used in an episode of The Sopranos.  “I think it’s the sexiest song I’ve ever sung in my life.  The moment it comes on, I start making these provocative moves (laughing).  I had asked to do it on the first Anti- thing, but then they decided it was going to be all women songs.  The next thing was with Drive-By Truckers, and they didn’t want Stop on that.  The next thing was the British songs, and of course it wasn’t going on that.  On the last one the producer himself didn’t want it on it, so now I said ‘okay Joe, I’m gonna bring up a tune I’ve been trying to bring up for ten years and see, if you go for it’.  He said ‘well, I’m not going to turn it down’.”

  Undamned is a painfully slow song by Over The Rhine’s Linford Detweiler, which first came out as a duet with Lucinda Williams three years ago, produced by Joe Henry.  “I feel like anything Lucinda is involved in I can just lay down the floor and sing.  Here the lyrics appeal to me.”  Bettye sang Lucinda’s song Joy already on her 2005 album.

  A typical pop song in those days, the fast Complicated, written by Jagger-Richards, was released on the Rolling Stones’ album Between the Buttons in 1967, and here on Bettye’s set it’s the first uptempo track - actually a driving rocky beater.  “Kevin let me hear that about eight or nine years ago.  I’ve always liked it, and it’s another one I’ve introduced three or four times.  Even for the Interpretations album (2010) I introduced it, but my co-producer didn’t want to do it.  With this song it was kind of ‘complicated’, because I rewrote all the lyrics in the first person.  That was fun to do, because I’m talking about me and he was talking about her.”


  Where a Life Goes is a slow and melancholy, troubadour type of a song, written by Randall Bramblett, who first sang on his 2008 album Now It’s Tomorrow.  “I worked with him.  I was in a dressing room, and he did Where a Life Goes acoustic.  I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but I liked the melody and everything I heard.  When he came off, I caught him in the hall and I asked ‘do you let other people do your songs’, and he gave me four CDs.  Kevin listened to them, picked three of his songs and I actually recorded another one, but it just didn’t match the rest of them on this album.”

  The song, in a way, is also a tribute to Bettye’s sister Mattie, who suddenly passed away in 1979, at only forty-six.  “She was thirteen years older than me.  By the time I got old enough for us to be really friends and her to stop being my mother more or less, she died.  We used to talk so much.  We slept together, and when we had to go somewhere we would shower together, so that we could keep talking.  The song just sounded so much like me asking her if I could talk to her.”

  The Amazing Rhythm Aces recorded a country-rock song called Just between you and me and the Wall, You’re a Fool, written by their keyboard player, Earl Hooker, for their 1977 album, Toucan Can Do It Too.  “This has been around for ten years, and nobody wanted to record it.  I didn’t want to do it just like that.  I wanted it to be mellower and I wanted it to be bluesy.  I wanted it to be reminiscent of Stormy Monday or something...  I told Doyle (Bramhall) that ‘Wayne Bennett played with Bobby Bland, and I want you to keep him up in your thoughts’.  He loved that idea, and did a fantastic job.”

  Wait stems from the Beatles’ 1965 album Rubber Soul, and under Bettye’s treatment this uptempo pop song metamorphoses itself into a very slow and subtle relaxant.  “When I hear the tune, I don’t hear the record.  I hear how I’m going to sing it.  Kevin let me hear this tune, and then we had a rehearsal here at my house with Rich Sussman for a gig, when I need only one musician.  I said ‘I don’t know why, but I just want an acoustic guitar and no rhythm’.  So he started playing it, and it came out like that.  On the album Chris Bruce is playing guitar on that one, Doyle is on bass and Patrick on keys.”


  Step Away is the second mover on the set, written by Christine Santelli and Brian Mitchell, and here Bettye is backed by a 3-piece horn section, too.  “It’s an original song by a young lady, Christine, here in New Jersey, a friend of Kevin.  I met her ten years ago, when I moved here.  She’s a singer-songwriter and has a band, and I think she’s a good writer.  I had one of her tunes on my last album as well, a thing called Old.”  That song appeared both on the Deluxe version of Thankful N’ Thoughtful, and on the EP, More Thankful, More Thoughtful in 2012.

  The title tune, Worthy, is both the concluding and the summarizing song on the set.  This slow country tune was written by Beth Nielsen Chapman and Mary Gauthier, and was released on Mary’s album Trouble & Love in 2014.  “Worthy was the last thing that I got.  I got it two weeks before we were going to record.  When I got it, I knew immediately that it would be the title of the album.  ‘I don’t want to hear any more songs.  That’s it’.”

  Bettye is a master in narrative emotional music, in making it visual in listener’s mind.  With all the drama to go with the music, she in a way has created a category of her own.  “Maybe that’s why they don’t give me any awards.  They don’t have any categories” (laughing).  The official release date for Worthy is January 26th, and there’ll be a 2-disc set available too, with one CD and one DVD.   

  To visualize Bettye even more, the filmmaker John Wells and Alicia Keyes have formed a production company and licensed the rights to Bettye’s book with David Ritz called A Woman like Me, published in 2012.  “They’re rewriting the screenplay now.” 

(; the interview conducted on December the 22th, 2014, acknowledgements to Bettye and Kevin).

R&B on RPM in 1954-57

  Speak Easy/The RPM Records Story vol. 2 1954-1957 (CDTOP2 1421;; 54 tracks, 148 min., notes by Tony Rounce) is released about five months after the first volume, No More Doggin’, and again there are as many as 23 alternate takes included.  There is, however, a note saying that many of those original recordings have already been released on other Ace compilations and that’s why, as alternatives and for variety, they’ve included un-reissued masters on these CDs covering the Bihari Brothers’ label histories.

  As expected, blues, rhythm & blues and doo-wop are dominating styles - in the early years, at least.  B.B. King is the star of this double-CD with nine tracks altogether, including his “rumba”, Don’t You Want a Man Like Me, his “country”, 16 Tons, and his “rock ‘n’ roll”, Bim Bam.  Of his charted singles, You Upset Me Baby (a reincarnation of Let the Good Times Roll), Every Day I Have the Blues, Crying won’t help you and Sweet Little Angel are included.

  Johnny “Guitar” Watson is also heavily featured with five tracks, and actually Johnny’s first hit in 1955 came out on RPM, a cover of Earl King’s ballad, Those Lonely, Lonely Nights.  At this point – as well as further below – with Stephen Propes’ kind permission I quote his great book, Old School/77 Years of Southern California R&B & Vocal Group Harmony Records 1934-2011 (  “Joe Bihari recalled, ‘Johnny Guitar was a guitar player who liked to play very loud.  I had a lot of problems recording loud.  I had to turn him down like they do today’.”

  Ike Turner had many of his protégés making discs for the Biharis those days, and on RPM in 1954 he himself cut as Lover Boy a slow blues song called The Way You Used to Treat Me, this time a reinvention of The Things That I Used to Do.  One of Ike’s boys, Lonnie “The Cat” Cation, cut in 1954 the original version of a romp called I Ain’t Drunk – and cleverly continued: I’m Just Drinking - and the same year Eugene Fox, under the clever pseudonym of The Fox, battles with a ghost in a spoken novelty called The Dream

Joe Bihari, B.B. King and Hunter Hancock

  The groups that distinguish themselves in doo-wop are the Meadowlarks (Real Pretty Mamma, Pass the Gin), the Chanters (She Wants to Mambo), Buddy Milton & the Twilighters (O O Wah), Arthur Lee Mayes & the Crowns (Truly) and the Jacks with their hit in 1955, Why Don’t You Write Me?  Stephen: “After putting out a half dozen releases as the Cadets, the group got their new name, the Jacks.  ‘At the time, they were kicking some names around’, said high tenor Ted TaylorMaxwell Davis came up with the name the Jacks based on cards, I guess.  We were a gospel group and we didn’t know anything about names’.  Their debut was a remake of the Feathers’ obscure original, Why Don’t You Write Me?”

  Eddie My Love by the Teen Queens turned into a sizeable pop hit in early 1956 (# 14-pop, # 2 – r&b).  Stephen: “Sisters Betty, 16 and Rose Collins, 14 were the Teen Queens.  They came from a musical family, as brother Aaron Collins was a founding member of the Jacks and Cadets and he arranged for them to record for the same Modern and RPM label family he was on.  (Aaron) wrote the song Johnny My Love as a tribute to Johnny Ace who had died about a year previously.  Aaron: ‘There were a lot of girl singers out there singing about Johnny, Dear Johnny, Why Johnny Why?, so I just came up with this thing about Johnny My Love, and then I changed the name to Eddie My Love, because the Johnny thing was going out’.”  Besides those mentioned above, Little Clydie & the Teens (the lead became better known as Clydie King) and the Jewels belong to the same category of pop & doo-wop.

  There’s also one track from 1956 aptly called Blau-Wile-Deveest-Fontaine by a young Canadian boy called Paul Anka – released shortly before Diana – and overall towards the end of RPM era the amount of pop, rockabilly (Pat Cupp, Don Cole) and rock ‘n’ roll releases increased on RPM.  In 1956 Richard Berry put out Yama Yama Pretty Mama.  Stephen: “Richard Berry was the first artist chosen by his Modern/RPM label to emulate the hot sound of Little Richard and was taken to New Orleans to record a rip of Chuck Berry’s Too Much Monkey Business entitled Yama Yama Pretty Mama.”  Similarly, next year Jack Lewis recorded Bippin’ and Boppin’ (Over You), another rock’n’roller.

    Donna Hightower is the leading lady on this set with three tracks, one of which is Dog Gone It (1955).  Stephen: “Donna Hightower (rn Bertha LaDonna Hightower; b. Caruthersville, MO; 1926) began her career in Chicago where she recorded for Decca as Little Donna Hightower in 1951/52.  ‘I was very little.  I looked like I was then years old when I was 20’.  In 1951, she moved to Minneapolis and by 1954, Hightower was in Los Angeles, where she debuted with the novelty Dog Gone It.”  Donna’s other two tracks here are Hands Off and He’s My Baby.

  Joe Houston, George Smith and Prentice Moreland are among the rest of the artists that are featured on Speak Easy, but I’m sure that all the 50s rhythm & blues music fans have got the idea by now.


  I still remember how disappointed I was after reading the book, Aretha: From These Roots, fifteen years ago.  It was a whitewashed, superficial story of Aretha’s life and music – almost like a daydreaming fairy tale – and not up to David Ritz’s standard of his earlier books on Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Jerry Wexler and Etta James.  After learning that the book was practically dictated to David and at the final stages he didn’t have any control of it, the picture becomes very clear.  Also other readers must have noticed the shallowness and the lack of sincerity, because the book wasn’t a good seller.

  Now we have David’s new book, an unauthorized Respect/The Life of Aretha Franklin (Little Brown and Company; ISBN 978-0-316-19683-3; 528 pages, 16 with photos; incl. selected discography and index).  This balancing book is based on information published and documented in other sources and confirmed by those close to Aretha.  There are numerous comments from sisters Carolyn and Erma and brothers, Cecil and Vaughn, who are more open and analytic in family matters.  Ruth Bowen is another one, who’s quoted a lot. She was Aretha’s booking agent and for decades a close friend on & off, depending on Aretha’s moods. 

  Besides family members, David has interviewed and cites James Cleveland, Smokey Robinson, Anna Gordy, Bobby Bland, B.B. King, Billy Preston, Buddy Guy, Carmen McRae,  Dennis Edwards, Johnnie Taylor, Harvey Fuqua, Bettye LaVette, Clyde Otis, Natalie Cole, Burt Bacharach, Arif Mardin and countless others, including some of Aretha’s main producers - John Hammond, Jerry Wexler, Luther Vandross and Narada Michael Walden.

  Now we have a decent, fact-filled and detailed history of “the Queen” and also a profile of a genuine human being with flaws, as opposed to a perfect goddess.  Many sore points are covered, such as Aretha’s mother abandoning the family and her sudden death later on, pre-teen pregnancies and Aretha’s problems with all three husbands.  There are also issues deriving from character and attitude problems – sibling rivalry, money management, nervous exhaustions, depression, countless unrealized ventures, failed projects and constant cancellations, antipathy for female rivals etc. – and in the book they all are described with examples and confirmed by those who were there.

  David writes that the first book, From These Roots, “remains an accurate view of Aretha’s picture of herself”, and now after reading both of these books I must admit that, if I ever have to check some matters on Aretha, I’ll do it in Respect.  It’s more credible.  One significant merit is that this time David writes a lot about the music itself and analyzes it, often with the creators of those sounds – on Columbia, Atlantic, Arista...  He writes about songs, sessions, interpretations, choices of material and how all those records and Aretha’s shows affected the surrounding music world.  And for the most part David really praises Aretha and her music.  I’m not alone with my positive review, because as a whole critique has been very favourable.

  I confess that some of Aretha’s deeds made me angry, like firing his faithful and long-standing music director H.B. Barnum, who is one of the greatest arrangers and directors in the business (he started out already in the 50s), but overall after this book my respect for Aretha is higher than after that first one.  Often people appreciate honesty and frankness more, instead of obsessive image control and rosy but phony press reports.  They can see through the smoke screen.  Hypocrisy usually fails in the end.  Remember what happened to the Soviet Union, which – according to its own media - was the paradise on earth.


  Aretha has also released a new CD, Sings the Great Diva Classics (RCA, Sony 88875022512;; notes by David Nathan), half of which was produced by Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and Antonio Dixon, and background supervisors - Aretha and Clive Davis - are credited as co-producers.

  Ree’s previous “Wal-Mart” set, A Woman Falling out of Love on Aretha’s Records, was strongly criticized and even David Ritz in the book above wasn’t very fond of it.  But it was my number one album in 2011!  I think that many of those, who put it down, listened to only short clips on the internet and consequently they missed all the skilful arrangements and rich orchestrations towards the end of tracks.

  This new CD is another case of inventive arrangements and new angles to familiar songs.  I won’t go into details, since most likely you’ve already read many reviews and know the concept of the album.  If not, you can read Aretha’s own comments on her website at -> “Queen of Soul.”  I just pick up a couple of my favourites.  Although I still prefer Cissy Houston’s original of Midnight Train to Georgia, here Aretha speeds the song up and turns it into an exciting and rousing, gospel-infused number.

  I Will Survive grows from slow into fast disco, with full strings and horns, and the evergreen People also has a big orchestra on the background and this track also features real drums.  Teach Me Tonight, a pop hit from 1954, gets a Dinah Washington treatment with an old-fashioned jazzy feel to it and a fascinating sax solo included.  Finally, Nothing Compares 2 U is turned into a swinging jazz piece with some good-ole scatting from Aretha.  I spent nice and relaxing holiday time with the book (Respect) and this fine new CD.

MY TOP-20 in 2014 *

(full-length, new official releases)

1.      Jennifer Holliday: The Song Is You
2.      Candi Staton: Life Happens
3.      Ruby Turner: All That I Am
4.      Aretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics
5.      Will Downing: Euphoria
6.      Carla Benson: You Should Be Here
7.      Lee Fields: Emma Jean
8.      Uvee Hayes: In The Mood
9.      Otis Clay & Johnny Rawls: Soul Brothers
10.  Philly Cream: Groovin’
11.  Roy C: Give Me A Chance

12.  Gladys Knight: Where My Heart Belongs
13.  The Illusions: Love
14.  Bloodstone: Fly Away
15.  Willie Clayton: Untamable
16.  Sheba Potts-Wright: I Came To Get Down
17.  O.B. Buchana: Pop-Yo’-Bottle
18.  Larome Powers: Stepping Out
19.  Carl Sims: Are You Serious
20.  Rue Davis: Shake It Loose (actually, a remix of the canned CD in 1995)

© Heikki Suosalo

Back to Deep Soul Main Page
Back to our home page