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Album Review: Betty Wright and the Roots' 'Betty Wright: The Movie'

November 15, 2011 |  7:00 am

Betty1
You can understand Betty Wright’s investment in a tune like “Old Songs,” the golden-days encomium that opens her first studio album since 2001. A longtime R&B fixture who’s never quite managed to break into the mainstream, Wright has for years complemented her work as an artist with production and vocal-coach gigs with the likes of Janet Jackson and Joss Stone; old songs and her proximity to them are more or less where Wright’s professional leverage lies. As sensible as it may be, the priggish nostalgia of “Old Songs” — in which she admonishes younger singers who don’t write their own material — is still a bummer to behold.

Mercifully, Wright dials down the schoolmarm vibe elsewhere on “Betty Wright: The Movie,” for which she recruited the Roots as a backing band. (The Philadelphia combo performed a similar task on Al Green’s excellent 2008 disc, “Lay It Down.”) Yet the entire record feels suffused with longing for an earlier era — or perhaps, befitting Wright’s lengthy career, several earlier eras: In “Tonight Again” she revives the plush sound of mid-’70s quiet storm, while “In the Middle of the Game (Don’t Change the Play)” floats atop a Chic-style disco-soul groove. Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg’s cameos in “Grapes on a Vine” and “Real Woman,” respectively, seem designed to connect the singer with hip-hop fans who’ve unwittingly heard her music in sampled form. In both cases, though, the rappers bend toward Wright, not vice versa.

 

Betty Wright and the Roots

"Betty Wright: The Movie"

(Ms. B/S-Curve)

Two and a half stars (Out of four)

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--Mikael Wood

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