In case you missed the memo: Detroit soul singer Bettye LaVette was this year's most compelling (and deserving) comeback kid. A thrilling yet largely unknown singer since the early 1960s, LaVette returned in splendor with this year's acclaimed ''I've Got My Own Hell to Raise," a bone-dry R&B album of songs written by contemporary female singer-songwriters.
Naturally, LaVette has been in the mood to brag a little, as she did so lovingly at Johnny D's on Saturday. ''While the rumors of my demise have been circulating," she said with staccato pauses, ''I . . . am . . . back."
Turns out LaVette is a master of raising hell. Backed by a seasoned (often to a fault) four-piece band, LaVette tore into ''The Stealer," an early-'70s Muscle Shoals romp that left LaVette thrusting her hips, kicking up her high heels, and threatening, ''I'm the stealer / I come to steal your love." The gut-wrenching ''He Made a Woman Out of Me" made it clear that LaVette, 59, leaves nothing in reserve; it's all or nothing with her.
But even LaVette's quieter moments were incendiary. She sat on the edge of the stage (and instructed the front of the audience to sit with her) for a stark cover of ''Just Say So," with William Farris's delicate acoustic guitar catching her at every turn. After a particularly searing rendition of Lucinda Williams's ''Joy," during which LaVette's weathered husk of a voice sounded uncannily like Tina Turner's, it was a wonder she could sing another song.
Ever the diva, LaVette was entirely too forgiving of some of her rowdy fans who occasionally disrespected her by talking at all the wrong times. ''Take your time, take your time," one young man advised her. ''I've got to, baby," she shot back. ''That's what got me here."
Eli Reed and the True Loves were a less obvious choice of an opener than expected. He's making old-school soul that LaVette churned out in the '60s, but she's not there anymore. Still, the band played an impassioned set that had some audience members congratulating Reed afterward. ''Where are you from?" someone asked him. ''Brookline," he said, to which someone else quipped, ''Brookline by way of Memphis."