“Some people think it’s an untouchable subject, but I like to touch the untouchable,” says Betty Wright as her organic roots funk Betty Wright: The Movie winds down with the piano rising to meet her on the slow jam “Go!”—subtle strings, quiet storm singers and a halting, but smoky delivery of a song that catalogues with startling specificity a litany of physical moments of domestic violence that builds to a taut groove exodus of the abused under cover of night.
“They gonna say she’s bustin’ up marriages,” she cautions, “but if somebody’s busting up on you, then your marriage is already broken.”
Wright, who came to prominence in the ‘70s with her bluesy funk “Clean Up Woman,” has always had a gift of being frank. Telling it like it is marked her soul dominance in that disco parallel reality—and that truth over the wah-wah guitar made her a spiritual godmother to the bohemenian post-funk of Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, India.Arie and Joss Stone.
For Betty Wright: The Movie, co-produced with ?uestlove, Wright accepts the mantle of elder soulmama. Plying both lush silken ballads that lean into the deeper intimacy of adults truly connected (the husky, dusky “Tonight Again,” the near mantra “Surrender”) and the staccato pluck of feelin’ good (“Old Songs,” the Snoop Dogg-interjected high praise of “Real Woman”), Wright is supple, sassy, exultant.
Much wisdom to be sure. Lil Wayne drops in for the skin-deep-ain’t-always-sweet “Grapes on a Vine,” while the word-foreshadows-the-future “Whisper on the Wind” guests mentoree Stone, and the want-to of Lenny Williams’ suede-voiced booty call “Baby Come Back” is torque of temptation resisted. Indeed, “Hollywould” is an ominous low flame exhumation of how it feels to be the girl trickin’, gettin’ by and gettin’ high with a sobering interjection from Robert “The Messenger” Bozeman.
Somewhere between a more street Chaka Khan and a less political Gil Scott-Heron, Wright can slide from the languid jazz of “The One” to the how-it-is wreckage-call of “Look Around (Be A Man)” with rapture and enough muscle to maintain control of some world class playing. Even the gospel-undertowed churn of forbearance in hard times “You and Me, Leroy” is all dig in and encourage; reality and faith, plus this good woman’s love is all you need to get by.