Bettye LaVette's resume reads impressively, with stints on tiny soul imprints as well as Motown and Atlantic during their heyday — bitter irony then that her career has been filled with disappointment, false starts and missed opportunities. Relegated to the esoterica of Northern Soul aficionados, Bettye's career has been revitalized in the 21st century with a new start on the Anti- label.
I've Got My Own Hell to Raise finds her in the studio with producer Joe Henry, who performed no mean feat pulling Solomon Burke out of the formaldehyde a few years back, even if only to gloss him over in the studio. LaVette is too feisty and self-assured a performer to be overwhelmed by such slickness, however, and her sandpaper pipes abrade against any constraining backdrop.
Tackling the oft-overlooked songbooks of ladies like Aimee Mann, Dolly Parton, Roseanne Cash and Joan Armatrading, LaVette deftly reconfigures country, folk and pop tunes into sounding like Southern soul standards. Her voice works best against a spartan backdrop, alternately pleading and belting a capella on Sinead O'Connor's "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" or sprinkling heartrending grit over the nylon strings of "Just Say So." On Fiona Apple's bratty "Sleep to Dream," LaVette burns incandescently like a lady phoenix, defiantly rising once again.