Soul equals feeling, and there's feeling aplenty in Bettye LaVette’s new show at the Café Carlyle (March 13-31). Introduced as “the Queen of Soul,” LaVette could also be king, foreign minister and an entire cabinet. She reaches deep into her dramatic repertoire of soul classics to pour out searing emotions, whether of pain or hope, and does so with vocal mastery that amazes one with what she can do with a word, a phrase or a note.
Standing confidently on stage in a black pants outfit, LaVette dispenses the talent for which she has been known in the world of R & B. When she sings the number “Let Me Down Easy,” it is impressive how many different intonations and inflections she can bring to the word “easy.” There is a anguished pleading in her delivery, and it gets to you.
She really lets go from the depths with “The Forecast (Calls for Pain)” and “Before I Even Knew Your Name (I Needed You).” She adds sexiness to “My Man (He’s a Lovin’ Man).”
There is the impressive assertiveness she can also render, as with “Take Me Like I Am” and “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got,” the second which she sings without her musicians. Likewise, with “Heaven” she announces triumphantly that she’s been cheated, “but they couldn’t break me.”
LaVette is backed by a first-rate musical group that adds much to the show, including Alan Hill, music director and keyboards; Charles Bartels, bass; Brett Lucas, guitar, and Darrell Pierce, drums. Whether vamping or with soulful accompaniment, the group makes its mark.
LaVette, who cites her age at 66, chats along the way, calling the last five years her happiest, but saying there were 45 more before that. Her first single was recorded when she was 16. Apart from all the ensuing recognition, she has since been called a rival to Aretha Franklin.
The current three-week run at the intimate Café Carlyle gives audiences a chance to see and hear her in full glory as she bursts with her interpretive skill and heart-wrenching feelings that come from so deep inside her. At the Café Carlyle, the Carlyle Hotel, 35 East 76th Street (at Madison Avenue). Phone: 212-744-1600.