The Good, The Bad and The Bette
Bette Smith grew up in the rough Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. “My father was a church choir director. I was singing since I was five years old. My mother listened to nothing but gospel, every Sunday morning, she would get up and put on these records…” So they would listen to Mahalia Jackson and James Cleveland. Of course Bed-Stuy parties would mix gospel with street corner soul music.
Smith made a promise to her late brother Junior not to give up singing. In 2017 she released her debut album “Jetlagger” produced by guitarist Jimbo Mathus of The Squirrel Nut Zippers; included where the rhythm section of the Drive-By Truckers’ bassist Matt Patton, and drummer Bronson Tew. The debut album garnered her rave reviews, as one critic called her “the next big-voiced soul sensation”.
For her sophomore effort vocalist Smith enlisted bassist Patton, and drummer/recording engineer Tew as producers. Once again they recorded at the Dial Back Sound studio in Water Valley, Mississippi. Special guests include North Mississippi All-star guitarist Luther Dickinson; Mathus who plays both guitar and organ, and vocalist Patterson Hood from the Drive-By Truckers. Eight additional musicians are utilized including guitarists, keyboardists, horns, strings and background vocalists.
While previously working together Smith and Patton found a shared vision as they both “wanted to get heavy into her rock side”. Smith opens with “Fistful of Dollars” written and first recorded by the B.B. King influenced Lonnie Shields, in Memphis in 1992; trumpeter Henry Westmoreland and a string section complete the production. Two songs, “I’m A Sinner” featuring guitarist Mathus and the backing singers; and “I Felt It Too”, were authored by Tyler Keith, a former member of the garage/punk rock band The Neckbones, out of Oxford, Mississippi. “Signs and Wonders” is a prayer song written by John St. Mar Kveen featuring Dickinson on guitar.
“Pine Belt Blues” is by Eliot McPherson and John Smith of the band The Dexateens; recorded in 2005 the band also included bassist Patton. “Everybody Needs Love” from Eddie Hinton, a member of The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, was first recorded by him in 1986; Hood joins the backing vocalists. “Don’t Skip Out On Me” is a 2016 song written by author/songwriter/singer Willy Vaultin, and drummer Sean Oldham, when they were with the Portland based rock band Richmond Fontaine; Smith is marvelous as she sings “don’t skip out without taking me” while Westmoreland wails away on his trumpet.
Three songs are biographical originals written by Smith with bassist Patton. “I told Matt a little about my childhood and my relationship with my mom”. “Whistle Stop” is a song based on a dream Smith had the night before her mother died; Eric Carlton is featured on piano. About “Human” Smith says her “dog taught me trust and vulnerability” as she sings “when your heart is in pain, I wanna be your human”. The third song is the poignant “Song For A Friend”.
These are impressive productions. The rock n’ soul singer Smith will remind you of Tina Turner, Betty Wright, and Macy Gray. She is the real deal.