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“It was culturally alive and it still is. There were a lot of block parties in the summer. They would import bands from Memphis and Mississippi and us brown and black girls would be jamming to these groups,” says Bette Smith, as she walks around the neighborhood of her upbringing, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, NY.

 

She’s just back from the UK where she made her new album ‘Goodthing’ (July 12, 2024 / Kartel Music Group) with GRAMMY Award-winning producer Jimmy Hogarth (Amy Winehouse, James Blunt, James Bay, Anonhi & The Johnsons, Sia, Corinne Bailey Rae, Tina Turner). Hogarth attests, “Bette is the real deal. Her delivery is the truth and comes straight from the heart. She is able to communicate with ease with her wonderful gift of a voice and I was delighted to work on this record.”

 

Bette’s on the cusp of a new chapter, with an album that is poised to take over airwaves fire and wide and seems sure to find her a much wider audience in the days to come.

 

Blessed with a voice described as “raspy,” “sassy,” “raunchy” and “sweet ’n soulful,” Bette grippingly fuses the soul, rock & roll, funk, blues, and gospel music she heard in her Brooklyn youth into something all her own. Yet, ‘Goodthing’ is no retro album.

 

MOJO called her “the next big-voiced soul sensation out of Brooklyn.” Of her success, she says, “It’s really a thank you God situation. It’s just been a whirlwind of meeting people from different places and countries.”

 

The young Bette Smith would have no idea that her music would take her around the world, from shows in America headlining and supporting the likes of Kenny Wayne Shepherd and the Drive-By Truckers to festivals in North America and Europe; from working with artists like Jimbo Mathus, Kirk Fletcher, Patterson Hood, and Matt Patton (of the Drive-By Truckers) to spotlights in the pages of The New York Times, Billboard, Paste, Bust, and beyond; from the airwaves of NPR World Café and the top 40 of the Americana Music Radio Chart to official Spotify playlist adds and a song streamed well over a million times.

 

The positivity, gratitude, and deep feeling of ‘Goodthing’—her musical high-water mark to date—are hard-earned by life experience.

 

She told NPR, of growing up in Bed-Stuy, “You had to stand up. I learned to be tough and to defend myself.” There was one instance where her brother came home saying there were kids trying to jump him and their dad had to chase them off with a two by four.

 

She recalls hearing a lot of soul music on the radio and in the neighborhood, saying, “When you were walking down the street, if you were humming any non-African American singer, you could get beat up!”

 

Her first stage was in church, taking solos with the church choir on songs like “Beautiful Flowers” or selections by Mahalia Jackson. “That’s my roots! Church music, Negro spirituals that they sang on special occasions. That was what I sank my teabag into,” she remembers.

 

In fact, her mother once beat her for singing secular music. Yet music of all kinds continued to serve as a balm for Bette. “It was a way of me soothing myself. If I was alone, I would sing and hum. Music was always a part of me,” say says.

 

This remained the case as she moved into adulthood. Bette’s brother Louis, aka Junior, on his deathbed from kidney disease, asked her to sing. “I was dancing around his bed, trying my best to cheer him up. He had a do-not-resuscitate order so it was just very sad for me.” She serenated him with Bill Withers, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, and Gladys Knight & the Pips, all his favorite songs of his. Weeks before his passing, he told her, “Promise me that you’ll sing, that you’ll follow your true heart.”

 

To this day, she dedicates her music and her concerts to Louis’ memory.

 

She also wants to pass on those feelings of gratitude and message of staying true to oneself to her fans. “It’s all about inspiring. I want everyone to be OK. I just want the world to heal itself,” she says.

 

Take “Eternal Blessings,” the first song recorded for ‘Goodthing.’ She’s singing about supporting a friend through a hard time but in concert, she sings to anyone who needs to hear it: “May the sunshine be above you / A captive heart freed / Do you have to keep shadowboxing indefinitely / Let there ever be a table / Set before your enemies / May His blessings be upon you eternally.”

 

She and Hogarth woodshedded the song. “I had written a poem but it fused into this beautiful song. He played this lick. It was like yin and yang, my muse and this theme he wrote,” she recalls. “We got to know each other, a bonding of the minds. How can you work so well with a complete stranger to tell them things that you’d put in the lyric of a very personal song,” she adds. It was the first song recorded for ‘Goodthing.’

 

The exhilarating collaboration continued through intensive days of songwriting and recording. They crafted an array of mesmerizing tracks between Jimmy’s creative sanctuary in London and Bette’s in Brooklyn, fusing previously written tracks with fresh compositions born of creative synergy. In total, Smith co-wrote five songs on the album.

 

That theme of following one’s heart, no matter how scary, stretches throughout, whether it be in music, love, or life. The earworm “Cave,” another Smith / Hogarth co-write, is a confession of love that also belies the vulnerability of offering oneself to someone else so completely.

 

“Darkest Hour” reminds one of deep soul ballads by Otis and Sam Cooke. In the acoustic, country music-inflected “Neptune,” Bette powerfully sings, “Oh you bring me back to the water / Back to the woman I dreamed I’d be.”

 

Being a Bette Smith album, there’s no lack of joy and sensuality as well!

 

“When Jimmy shared this fresh new track ‘Happiness’ the first thing it did was hit me right in the heart,” comments Bette. “It was like he tapped into my soul and put my feelings into song form. I couldn’t contain my excitement - it was straight up joy but also brought some personal reflection. And that’s exactly what I hope this song does to everyone – brings a feeling of joy even with all the challenges around the planet,” she adds.

 

The album rips the band-aid off right from the start with “Goodthing,” moving from a wicked Black Keys-esque guitar riff to a Stevie Wonder groove. Smith brings the funk on “M.O.N.E.Y.”  Smith co-wrote the party-starting summer rocker “Whup ‘Em Good” on the road with Daniel Lerner and touring bandleader Curtis J. Brewer.

 

From block parties in Bed-Stuy to her brother’s deathbed and a UK studio with hitmaking producer, her saga has brought her to this point. Bette has the last word: “’Goodthing’ is a project that is near to my heart. It’s a personal album. Each song tells its own story and reflects elements of my life, but together it forms a full, vivid picture that reveals many of my passions and struggles and successes. But my sincere hope is that the music and words speak to people in their own lives and that listeners can relate on a human level. Most importantly, I just want it to bring joy and comfort and entertainment to people across the board. I am incredibly proud of this album and excited to share it to the world!”

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