Despite being born and bred in Brooklyn it took a trip down to the dirty south for Bette Smith to find her sound – working with producer Jimbo Mathus and a live band, together they captured the exuberant energy of her vocal performances and recorded straight to tape. At first glance the cover suggests this may be simple retro soul in the vein of much missed Sharon Jones, but Jetlagger also blends rock and roll, blues, psychedelia, gospel and funk into its thrilling mix.
Much has been written about the strength of Smith’s voice and this is evident on the opening song I Will Feed You, where she sounds like she’s ready to devour the whole damn world. Yet there’s a vulnerable side displayed here too, as Smith wrote this one after a break up. Be happy you’re free/ my friends say to me / it’s a dark victory she sings, not ready to give up her love.
The title track has a bluesy feel to it – she might feel jetlagged but everything about this song is high voltage. So too is the brilliant Manchild, which sounds like a roar of feminist victory that Tina Turner would be proud of.
I’ve always adored Maria McKee and Bette covers one of her Lone Justice tunes, I Found Love, with blistering effect. Some of that band’s magic was lost in 80s overproduction so it’s fantastic to hear this played like a straight rollicking stomper. It’s a forgotten classic brought back to life by Bette and the band with real passion and power.
On Durty Hustlin she goes low and makes every note dangerously seductive. Shackles and Chain is the big soul number, reminiscent of the Daptone style or Aretha at her most bombastic. Do Your Thing, an Issac Hayes cover, adds a funky seventies groove to the album. City in the Sky is a song made famous by the Staple Singers and while Smith might have a more raw edge than Mavis, a gospel influence runs deep, most notably on Flying Sweet Angel of Joy.
Jetlagger is an eruption of effervescent charm from start to finish. So board the plane, take your seat and strap in because you don’t want to miss it when this woman takes to the skies.