LIVE: “Sisters in Soul” @ Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 3/14/10

Bettye LaVette
Bettye LaVette

“I’m just trying to hold the fort,” Bettye LaVette told us before she began a smoky take on Ray Charles’ “They Call it Love.” Hold the fort? LaVette commanded it all through her opening set of the Sisters in Soul show at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. The 63-year old soul singer doesn’t just sing songs – she inhabits them, with a towering vocal attack and an animated stage presence that makes Tina Turner seem introverted: LaVette wrung every last gram of passion out of Pete Townshend’s “Love, Reign O’er Me”, turned Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow”” into a deep dark blues, and she took the message in George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity” far beyond where the ex-Beatle left it.

Many artists would have hidden in the dressing room rather than follow an act like LaVette’s. Instead, “Long Tall” Marcia Ball sat down at her center-stage piano, crossed her right leg over her left, and launched into a feverish set of down-and-dirty boogie-woogie swamp rock. When you’re dealing with someone who plays piano like Dr. John and counts Mardi Gras and Jazzfest as “my two favorite holidays,” you know it’s gonna be a party, and it most definitely was! “Red Beans” and “Crawfishin'” cooked almost as hot as Mike Schurmer’s guitar and Thad Scott’s tenor sax, and we got grand tours of “Thibodeaux, Louisiana” and (of course) New Orleans, which is a “Party Town.”

If Ball was having a good time during her set, she was grinning like a Powerball winner as she and her band backed Maria Muldaur through some truly righteous R&B. Remember that light, flirty voice you heard on (as Muldaur wryly referred to it) “that song about the camel?” The big range is still there, but there’s some serious grit on the pipes now. Rather than hindering Muldaur, that grit gave an extra boost of soul to classics like Percy Mayfield’s “Send Me Someone to Love” and Earl King’s “Make a Better World.” Muldaur and Ball teamed up for a funky reboot of Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can, Can,” and they got down to business on Greg Brown’s “Steady Love” (“What women really want,” Muldaur informed the men in the audience).

It was obvious about seven seconds into their two-song finale that these three women don’t just respect and admire each other as artists, but they also get a big kick out of each other. LaVette had forgotten her mic when the band came back for the encore “A Friend like You,” but she and Ball nearly busted a gut when Muldaur told the crowd, “We hope the show isn’t too slick for you.” Nope, it wasn’t slick – it was good old, organic, analog fun!

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

Read Greg Haymes’ review in The Times Union
In The Daily Gazette, Michael Hochanadel wrote, “When Bettye LaVette sang that she had been herself too long to stop now, it was a beautiful thing. She sang old-school soul style on all kinds of songs, kicking off the Sisters in Soul show at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Sunday and setting the bar so high her musical sisters Marcia Ball and Maria Muldaur must have been terrified backstage. A prodigious voice, a big bag of moves, a bottomless reservoir of feeling-as-music, LaVette all but leveled the Hall. In her early 60s, LaVette charted a course ahead rather than studying the rear-view mirror of vintage antiques.”

The Stealer
I Still Want to Be Your Baby (Take Me Like I Am)
They Call It Love
Isn’t It a Pity
Little Sparrow
You Don’t Know Me at All
Thru the Winter
A Woman Like Me
Love Reign O’er Me

Let’s Have a Natural Ball
Red Beans
Thibodaux, Louisiana
Party Town

I’m a Woman
Make a Better World
Yes We Can, Can
Steady Love
Please Send Me Someone to Love
Don’t Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down (with Marcia Ball)
It Hurts to Be in Love (with Marcia Ball, Bettye LaVette)
Bye Bye, Baby (with Marcia Ball, Bettye LaVette)
Without a Friend Like You (with Marcia Ball, Bettye LaVette)

Maria Muldaur
Maria Muldaur

Marcia Ball
Marcia Ball

  1. Rudy Lu says

    Love the Betty LaVette photo.

  2. Greg says

    Thanks for the shout out to Andrzej Pilarczyk, Rudy.

  3. Kathy says

    Great pics Andrzej. Heard it was a fantastic show! Thanks for sharing the playlist from the show.

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