THERE are enough cover versions of Bob Dylan songs for a lifetime but Bettye LaVette’s own dozen are a truly special kind. She doesn’t simply sing them — she molds, adopts and transforms them, taking possession of the songs like few other interpreters do or can.
If Dylan has often purposely confounded expectations, LaVette’s career, which began in Detroit in the early 1960s, was plagued by disruptions and did not hit a consistent stride until some 40 years after its start. But it’s been highlight after highlight since 2003’s comeback “A Woman Like Me,” including several Grammy nominations and a ceremony-stopping performance of The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” when Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2008.
The repertoire of “Things Have Changed” sticks mostly to roads less traveled, leaning heavily toward Dylan songs from the 1980s onward, including “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight,” ”Emotionally Yours” and “Ain’t Talkin’,” while the title track is his Oscar winner from the 2000 “Wonder Boys” soundtrack.
Producer and drummer Steve Jordan proves the ideal foil, with guitarist Larry Campbell (a former Dylan band member), keyboardist Leon Pendarvis and bassist Pino Palladino playing key roles in the transformations. Keith Richards, Ivan Neville and Trombone Shorty are among the distinguished guests.
“The Times They Are A-Changin,'” the biggest hit on the album, gets a funky, swampy reading that injects the menacing track with a deep soul, while “Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others),” from Zimmy’s Christian phase, rocks with Led Zeppelin’s intensity.
LaVette and the band take liberties with the songs — changing or dropping lyrics, altering melodies, updating moods — but the reassessments achieve their purpose: unburdened from a specific Dylan album or period, their kinship is clear and undeniable.
You could do much worse than to have Bettye LaVette interpret your songs but you really, truly couldn’t do much better. (AP)