Monday, July 5, 2010

BETTYE'S BRITISH INVASION

Inside KB's Barber Shop, Cory set in his barber chair with a tall can of Arizona Ice Tea between his legs reading the liner notes of Bettye LaVette's new album "Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook". I was early for my bi-weekly hair cut. Business was slow, so the other barbers Dane and Dex played dominoes. KB was restocking the vending machine, and Marcus watched Sport Center on the flat screen televison that was mounted over the vending machine. Before I set down, Cory asked if I’ve heard Bettye LaVette's new album. Cory always talks to me about music because I'm a music critic for the Metrotimes, a weekly newspaper. Cory is an aspiring musician and songwriter. He plans to quit cutting hair when the music thing takes off. Cory is also a good single dad. A photo of his daughter is stuck in the corner of the mirror behind his barber's chair. I was shocked when KB told me Cory is a Jehovah's Witness. The first time I met Cory, he was drinking Hennessey from a plastic cup. I thought that was odd because Witnesses forbid the consumption of alcohol and listening to secular music was a shunned as well. Maybe Cory reasoned it's okay broke the rules occasionally. I never asked him if his love for hip-hop, R&B, neo-soul, and jazz conflicted with his religious beliefs.

"I bought the album Friday at Border's. It was on sale for $9.99," I said. I removed a back issue of Smooth magazine with a half-naked Stacy Dash on the cover and the sport section of the Detroit News from the chair in front of Cory’s station. Then I flopped down, removed my baseball cap and sunglasses. I put my car keys and sunglasses inside my cap. KB locked the vending machine door. He dropped the key in the pocket of his black smock. He told me that he had one customer scheduled ahead of me. The customer was running late. That was okay with me because I could kill time talking to Cory about LaVette's album.

"I bought it a few days ago myself," Cory said as he slid the liner notes back in the plastic CD case. He placed the Arizona Ice Tea on the counter behind him. "I didn't know you’re into Bettye LaVette. All you ever talk about is jazz”.

"A lot of people think all I listen to is jazz. Jazz is all people ever ask me about,” I said. I saw Bettye LaVette singing "Salt of the Earth" on the David Letterman Show.

"You're the only black man I know how watches the David Letterman Show," Cory said.

"I don't watch it regularly. I was channel surfing. I caught the tail end of her performance.

"Her voice is something," Cory said. He paused to admire the photo of LaVette on the album cover in an all black outfit sitting a lotus position.

"I think she's a blues singer at heart" I said.
"That's what I love about the album," Cory said. "The songs were written by British rockers, but she turned the songs into the blues."

"Yeah, especially on "All My Love," "Wish You Were Here" and "Why Does Love Got to be so Bad". Most of the British rockers were influenced my blues musicians," I noted.
"You mean they stole from blues musicians,"

"I that's a matter of interpretation. I don't want to get into that"
" That's too deep of a topic to get into on a Tuesday." Cory backed off. "Her phrasing is so different".

"Yeah, her voice almost sounds like it's horsed in a beautiful way."

"How long have you been a fan," Cory asked.
"I'm not really a fan. Interpretations is my first Bettye LaVette album. Three years ago, I saw her at the Detroit jazz fest. She was fit and looked better than most 20-year-old women I know. She strolled and flailed about the stage like a fitness instructor.

"I was there. I thought she put on a good show."

"It wasn't nearly as good as this album."

"That's true, I wonder if the record company thought she was crazy when she proposed doing an album of all British rock songs. What do you think?"

"They may've been reluctant, but she strikes me as the kind of woman that knows how to get things done. I think it was gutsy of her to attempt to make this kind of album," I said.

One of Cory’s regulars walked into the shop. He was lanky and he carried a backpack. Cory stood up and motioned him over. The regular played his backpack on the floor next to the coat rack. Then he flopped down in Cory's chair.

"I don't think another singer could've pulled this kind of record off," Cory said.

"Bettye is hard to classify. She can do it all blues, jazz, R&B and rock.

“I bet her record label has a hard time figuring out how to package and market her.”

KB interrupted our discussion, telling me the customer that was scheduled ahead of me canceled his appointment. KB was ready to cut my hair. I told Cory we'd have to continue our discussion later. Then I followed KB to his station.
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