Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Betty Davis, Betty Davis

Betty Mabry was married to Miles Davis for about a year in the late 1960s and kept his surname for the rest of her recording career.  “Betty Davis” is her first album originally released in 1973 and betty davisrereleased in the spring of 2007 with the addition of three previously unreleased tracks.  Davis sings and wrote and arranged all the tunes.  Much is made in the extensive liner notes and on various internet sites of Davis being a precurser of the sexually aggressive female vocalist both in terms of lyrical content and personal lifestyle.  Whether or not it’s accurate, the blurb and the music combine to present Davis as a young woman who slept her way around the music industry, enjoyed every minute of it, and made a couple of records singing about it.

The music on “Betty Davis” is straighforward funk played by a collection of musicians many of whom had notable careers of their own.  Among the players are Sly and the Family Stone drummer Greg Errico, Graham Central Station bass player Larry Graham, Santana and Journey guitarist Neal Schon, and horn players Mic Gillette and Greg Adams from Tower of Power.  Backup vocalists include Kathi McDonald, Sylvester, and the Pointer Sisters.  It’s a remarkable collection of talent which makes it all the more surprising that the music seems relatively bloodless.  The liner notes indicate that the music was created by Davis “singing” a bass or guitar line and then the band jamming on it until an arrangement emerged.  Perhaps this is the reason but, whatever it may be, as often as not the music on “Betty Davis” comes across as by the numbers funk performed by high quality musicians.

Davis’ vocals are the main source of interest on “Betty Davis”.  Her voice is rough and well gravelled with frequent shrieks, grunts and shouts.  When she loses the vocal mannerisms she reveals herself as a singer of limited range and power.  However she doesn’t present herself as a traditional singer and her rough style works well with the rough and ready funk laid down by the musicians.  Voice, music and lyrical content combine well on paper they just don’t quite catch fire in the studio.

The rerelease of “Betty Davis” is a surprisingly lavish production for an album that had little impact when it was originally released and has languished in obscurity since.  The package contains a 32 page booklet with a number of photos and a long essay about Davis.  And this is only half the story.  The essay promises to continue in a rerelease of Davis’ second album by the same production team.  Putting these two albums out on two separate full priced rereleases seems like a blatant rip off as the original album “Betty Davis” is less than 30 minutes long.  I haven’t timed the second album but given the length limits imposed by the vinyl technology of the day, there’s no reason both records could not have been combined with a selection of bonus cuts on one CD.  The dual release strategy may work to suck more cash out of the wallets of avid funk collectors who simply must have both albums but for others the music on “Betty Davis” just isn’t compelling enough to warrant spending the money on another CD.

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10/15/2007 - Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews

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