Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Bettye Lavette: A Woman Like Me [Blues Express, 2003]
From Ann Peebles to Etta Jones, there are dozens of great lost soul divas out there, every one collectible and every one overrated. Lavette resurfaced seriously when she shouted her way into Bubbling Brown Sugar and has inspired a reissue boomlet in elderly nations that don't want to bomb Iraq, but buying the product, even from bettyelavette.com, is impossible. That said, I intend to keep trying. The mad genius of this album is producer-songwriter Dennis Walker, who having long ago sculpted Robert Cray as an obsessed adulterer-cuckold now turns three of the bluesman's male-chauvinist classics into painful cries of victimization and, with help from guitarist Alan Mirikitani, crafts a batch of long-suffering miniatures that make the record. But Lavette makes the songs--though she's gritty and loves to testify, she never overdoes it. What's more, she's got the psychological equilibrium to find optimistic material she can put across just as passionately. That's why Walker sequenced the material to move Lavette toward independence--and wrote the strong-willed title track with a woman. A