Music » Record Reviews

Bette Smith's Jetlagger: Brooklyn Grit Meets Mississippi Soul

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Bette Smith hails from Brooklyn, and her latest record keeps the longstanding ties between New York and the Mid-South as strong as ever. In truth, the record is all North Mississippi, with Magnolia State native Jimbo Mathus serving as musical director, guitarist and organist. Memphians Marc Franklin, Kirk Smothers, and Susan Marshall all pitch in as well. What the band brings to the record is an eclectic blend of rock and soul with one foot in the garage, which suits Smith's pitch-perfect, rough-hewn vocals to a tee.

Smith's voice is a force of nature, simultaneously dramatic and unaffected. When Mathus' crunchy guitar or cheesy tube organ lines bubble up out of the mix, they are a perfect complement to Smith's gritty delivery. The album as a whole exudes that golden period in the '70s when soul was absorbing rawer rock elements, yet before production conventions became too polished. True to its old school spirit, Smith tracked her vocals live with the band, and it pays off when the slightly unhinged dynamics of the songs take flight with her, making for a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts. Smith's “I Will Feed You” and Mathus' “Durty Hustlin'” are standouts in this regard. Meanwhile, the band nods to its ancestors with a gritty cover of Isaac Hayes' “Do Your Thing”. As a whole, this is a powerful reminder that rootsy soul need not follow too closely in the footsteps of its forerunners, as long as its heart is in the right, raw place.

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