Oftentimes, the problem with tribute albums is that they sound far too reverent of the original songs. If you're not going to do anything special with the tunes, why even bother covering them at all, since the originals are usually amazing to begin with? Bettye LaVette's new disc, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, blows this notion out of the water. In fact, if you didn't know the title of this album, you'd swear that this wasn't a tribute record at all merely a collection of bluesy, lovesick tracks belted out clear and strong. Then again, the more you listened the more you might recognize a line or two ("Maybe I'm amazed at the way you love me all the time" or, perhaps, "two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl"), and go running for the liner notes. Because on Interpretations the Detroit native's third disc for the Anti- label LaVette reimagines English classics of the 1960s and '70s. Beside the aforementioned numbers by Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd, the gravelly-toned Motor City mama bazookas Led Zeppelin ("All My Love"), Derek and the Dominoes ("Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?"), and the Who ("Love Reign O'er Me"), turning classic rock into classic soul. LaVette slows most of the tunes to a crawl, stripping the music down to its bare bones, wringing every ounce of emotion from the heartsick lyrics. Even a minor work like the Rolling Stones' "Salt of the Earth" here feels revelatory, eliciting more goosebumps than a pack of hunting dogs. This is one tribute that sheds as much light on the genius of the interpreter as it does on the initial artists.
Wed., July 14, 7 p.m., 2010