The name Betty Davis sends the hardcore soul addict’s heart racing. Between 1973 and 1975 she recorded and released three criminally overlooked albums, starting with her self-titled debut, followed in ’74 by the luxurious and eccentric They Say I’m Different and culminating with Nasty Gal. With tracks such as the S&M trip “He Was a Big Freak” and the sexual pleading of “Your Mama Wants Ya Back,” she proved herself and cut a ferocious, revolutionary style likeness that one images struck fear in the both the libido and genius of Marvin Gaye and Sly Stone. Light in the Attic reissued those tracks in 2007 with broad acclaim. Those were followed in 2009 by the previously unheard ’76 LP Is It Love or Desire?.

Davis, for her part, wasn’t clamoring to make new music. The incredibly shy model/songstress/actress had returned to anonymity by the end of the 1970s and was by all accounts happy to leave behind a high-profile and sometimes controversial life. (Her proclamations of sexual freedom didn’t come without a price: Some felt she objectified herself; others complained that she objectified people of color.) Fans of those early recordings could hunt and peck for rarities which came to light from time to time but most believed that any Betty worth hearing had already been uncovered.

Until now. This latest set digs deep into Davis’ archives for a series of demos produced for Columbia Records between October ’68 in Los Angeles with Hugh Masekela helping out and then in May ’69 with new husband Miles Davis at the board with his longtime collaborator Teo Macero. Backed there by several of the players who’d help craft Bitches Brew she cut material that could have made a truly exciting LP. She’d been in the studio before, having cut obscure sides as Betty Mabry. Those went nowhere and the sessions with Miles did little to change her fortunes even if her artistic focus remained sharp.

The nine cuts here (two covers, six self-penned with a second version of “I’m Ready, Willing & Able” rounding things out) suggest that her inability to land a deal with Columbia wasn’t because she lacked talent. The record’s first side is mixed from a stylistic perspective. The opening “Hangin’ Out” is loose, free, and filled with late 1960s zeitgeist. “Politician Man” (better known as “Politician,” as recorded by Cream) remains now, as it must have been then, well ahead of its time. It’s psychedelic but psychedelic in a sense that never became vogue and still hasn’t. It’s eerie, dissonant, Charles Ives on soul and acid rock. There are moments where it sounds like two rock ensembles colliding, wrestling for control of what might otherwise be just another rock song. Not even Hendrix’s stabs at futuristic sounds comes close to the sheer weirdness heard across these nearly six minutes.

The third piece, “Down Home Girl” lands somewhere in between but still proves too avant garde for the pop and soul world of that time or, frankly, any other.

The second side gets a little hazier as a fast and furious “Born on the Bayou” never lifts the way its counterparts do. It sounds like an intentional stab at pop magnificence and almost gets there. Of the tracks from those ’69 sessions, it’s “Ready, Willing & Able” that shows the most promise of connecting to a broad audience, the kind that Columbia probably saw for the young songstress.

Whatever the reasons, Columbia ultimately passed on Davis. Her husband shopped the record to Atlantic but, she suggests, the suits there didn’t dig Miles’ style. Had he succeeded, one suspects that this final cut from the New York sessions would have been the direction an album or albums would have taken. The result would have probably been something that didn’t advance Betty’s commercial fortunes and instead languished in bargain bins until it disappeared.

Instead, she matured into the perfectly eccentric artist who crafted those two uncommonly good freshman and sophomore releases several years later.

The tracks on this latest offering culled from Los Angeles reveal three fairly conventional R&B cuts that are filled with Lady Davis’ inimitable attitude but little of the futuristic shock that made her truly great. They’re still better than what many of her contemporaries mustered at the peak of the powers and deserve wide attention and consideration.

Liner notes, including a 2014 interview of sorts with Davis, attempt to lift the veil of mystery but no one seems to remember the moment in time captured on these recordings all that well. Perhaps that’s as it should be. Somehow, our imaginations and this music offers quite enough.

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