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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Betty Davis: They Say I'm Different


1) Shoo-B-Doop And Cop Him; 2) He Was A Big Freak; 3) Your Mama Wants Ya Back; 4) Don't Call Her No Tramp; 5) Git In There; 6) They Say I'm Different; 7) 70's Blues; 8) Special People.

Out of the three completed original LPs engineered by Betty during her short career, this is the most «quiet» one, if the term is at all applicable to someone so bent on mixing glamor with a Zulu warrior image. The «quietness» mainly means that, this time around, Betty was not able to assemble such a stellar cast to play for her —there are at least twenty different people credited in the liner notes, but most are relatively unknown, and, unlike the 1973 band, they do not seem to understand that well what particular sort of «bitch-from-hell» they are supposed to be backing. Consequently, the grooves are still well-cut and the riffs are still memorable, but they generally lack the crackle, sizzle, and sparkle they had on Betty Davis.

Maybe the best way to understand what the hell I am talking about is to listen, in succession, to the first five seconds of each of the opening tracks. The bluesy riff of ʽIf I'm In Luckʼ snarls and threa­tens from the very first note — the funky riff of ʽShoo-B-Doop And Cop Himʼ is softer, subtler, and sleazier, and Betty complements it with a softer, more «sly» and «seductive» delivery than her "if I'm in luck I might just get picked up!" where you'd really be smart if you thought twice before picking up that hot little thing. In the case of ʽShoo-B-Doopʼ, though, she seems to be showing us a less aggressive side — going ash far ash introdushing a shweet little lishp to her articulation: "...and when the clock shtrikesh twelve..." Sssshekssshy!

Overall, there is a little less emphasis on heavy rock and a little more on hot funk throughout — I wouldn't mind if the band were a perfectly tight littlwe funky outfit, but it seems to be crafting arrangements rather than snatching them out of the clouds; no wonder, perhaps — given how many different musicians there are, it is not likely that many of them had enough time to gel toge­ther. Still, just like before, most tracks get along well because they have some sort of nifty com­positional idea — a bassline, a twin guitar dialog, a funny clavinet phrase, something to pin it all to with certainty. That way, even something like ʽDon't Call Her No Trampʼ, which essentially consists of little other than Betty barking out the song title, becomes contagious: that clavinet is really «nasty» in a ʽSuperstitionʼ-like kind of manner.

The title track here is a black-pride anthem to pre-war and Chicago blues heroes, appropriately set to a series of «swamp-blues» licks — Betty explicitly establishing her link with the spirits of the past: "My great-grandma didn't like the foxtrot / Instead she'd spit her snuff and boogie to Elmore James... that's why they say I'm strange / that's why they say I'm funky". Lots of sincere feeling, I guess, but somehow it still comes across as posturing, maybe because the average pedi­gree of a Robert Johnson or a Leadbelly does not get superimposed so smoothly over the Green­wich Village pedigree of the young Betty Mabry. (Then again, she did spend her youth on her grandma's farm in North Carolina, so at least what she sings about not liking the foxtrot is most probably true). Anyway, it doesn't sound bad, but it is hardly as convincing as when the lady is singing about wiggling her fanny — seems more like an attempt to explain herself in a predic­table fashion (you think this is nasty? go listen to some of my predecessors!).

Like last time around, this record also ends with a bit of «crude tenderness» — ʽSpecial Peopleʼ has Betty cooing and purring to the sounds of soft jazzy electric piano (with a punchy rhythm section playing along, it's not a «sissy» ballad or anything), showing off the uncomfortable im­per­fections of her voice and almost reveling in the amateur flair of it all. Too amateur, perhaps, but then there should be a discount for female Zulu warriors contributing to the blacksploitation scene, I suppose. One notch down from the self-titled debut, yet still a thumbs up — the grooves hold and the kettle is still boiling.

Check "They Say I'm Different" (CD) on Amazon
Check "They Say I'm Different" (MP3) on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. Hi George, it's cool you're still doing this, I remember I found your first site back when there was no It was a real goldmine for me and I must admit you influenced my musical education. Keep up the good work man.