In the ’60s and ’70s, the love affair between American R&B and British rock was wholly reciprocal. Soul veteran Bettye LaVette hinted at her love of that era on her 2007 comeback album, The Scene Of The Crime, on which she sang a stunning cover of Elton John’s “Talking Old Soldiers.” On her new full-length, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, she tackles John’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” but that’s just the tip of the kingdom. As promised, the disc is a journey through vintage British rock, but her simmering, brooding John cover shows just how freely she’s chosen to adapt some of the most famous songs in the pop canon.
That liberty is well taken. LaVette’s rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” roots the original’s atmosphere in a stately, graceful gravity, and her version of The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me”—recorded live at 2008’s Kennedy Center Honors ceremony—is as blue and nuanced as the original is bombastic. When a few of tracks—for instance, her almost Nina Simone-esque take on Led Zeppelin’s “All My Love”—do erupt, LaVette still digs deep to mine the grit and melancholy that a lot of these songs, as great as they are, didn’t know they had.