Born and raised in Brooklyn, the daughter of a church choir director, BETTE SMITH sang the gospel her mother listened to as a child and the soul music she heard in her neighbourhood on hot New York summers, when Brooklyn was a dangerous place, full of street gangs, intimidating for a growing girl. When she released her first album ‘Jettlager’ in 2017, Bette reconnected with her Memphis and Mississippi roots. And she also fulfilled a promise she made to her brother Junior on his deathbed, stricken with kidney failure; that she would not give up on her singing career. “It’s all for him,” she says.
Produced by Jimbo Mathus, founding member of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, musician for artists like Valerie June, Buddy Guy or Elvis Costello, solo artist and producer of Luther Dickinson or The Seratones among others, he produced the album and sent first recordings to Big Legal Mess Records, a subsidiary of the Fat Possum label, who signed her immediately. “Bette far exceeded all expectations,” says Mathus. That debut was a live record, surrounded by the Mississippi swamps and the Southern legacy of soul, but with Bette’s New York aggression and passion. “I felt like Tina Turner and Etta James”. Bette recorded a fiery version of ‘I Found Love’ that Steven Van Zandt wrote for Lone Justice, and demonstrated her strong connection to gospel through the final cut, the Staples Singers song ‘City in the Sky’. In fact, Ray Charles invited her to collaborate with him after hearing her sing in a Los Angeles church shortly before he died.
Her follow-up, after a successful tour that took her to the prestigious Montreaux festival, was The good the bad and the Bette (2020), an album of rocky soul-rock, funk, and sounds borrowed from the Blaixplotation soundtracks, produced by Drive-By Truckers bassist and ex-Dexateens Mike Patton, which accentuates her more rock profile. With contributions from Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers themselves and Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars, The Black Crowes), the album reconfirmed Bette Smith as a force of nature.
She has been compared to the power of Big Mama Thornton and Bessie Smith, the classic elegance of Joe Williams, the dynamism of Koko Taylor and the energy of Janis Joplin, all wrapped in the magic of Billie Holiday. Timeless music (soul, rhythm & blues) with Mississippi roots!
Report by ’24/7 Valencia’ team
Article copyright ’24/7 Valencia’
28 July 2023
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