On the opening track of her debut album Jetlagger (Big Legal Mess Records), Brooklyn-born soulstress Bette Smith promises “I Will Feed You” and that’s exactly what she proceeds to do musically, moving from the haunting, Macy Gray-ish sound of that number and others like “Flying Sweet Angel of Joy” to such rockers as a Tina Turner-ish take on the Little Steven Van Zandt co-written “I Found Love” (Lone Justice) and heavy soul R&B of “Manchild”, one of several songs penned or co-penned by Jimbo Mathus, who also produced and provides some nice guitar, keyboard, and background vocals on the project.
There’s also the slow-grinding blues of an Ursula Ricks-sounding “Durty Hustlin'”, a “Shackle & Chain” that sounds like it could be a soul classic but really is only just destined to become one (being tied down has never sounded so good!), and a slow-grooved, patient take on Isaac Hayes’ “Do Your Thing”, as well as the country-flavored “Moaning Bench”, the chugging title track, and the closing, uplifting gospel sounds of the Staples Sisters’ “City in the Sky”. It’s all driven by Smith’s soulful, deep sultry voice and some terrific Memphis horns, along with modest yet impressive parts from other backing musicians, making Jetlagger one of the most powerful and feisty debuts we’ve heard in some time.
Here’s Smith with the official video for “Manchild”: