Bettye LaVette is a symbol of gritty persistence in the face of music industry indifference. Though she emerged from the same fecund Detroit music community that gave rise to, among many others, Aretha Franklin and the entire early Motown roster, she remained a relative unknown to those outside the most dedicated of soul circles. In the early 2000s, however, LaVette's career underwent a surprising resurgence, and in 2005 she released I'VE GOT MY OWN HELL TO RAISE. The triumphant, critically acclaimed comeback album featured renditions of songs by the likes of Lucinda Williams, Sinead O'Connor, and Fiona Apple. A tour followed, and in 2007 she released THE SCENE OF THE CRIME, with musical backing by alt-country young guns the Drive-By Truckers.
Her 2005 acclaimed release, "I've Got My Own Hell To Raise", brought well-deserved recognition to this R&B maverick who's been recording since the early 60s. Now comes the almost autobiographical "Scene Of The Crime". To make music this raw and direct, Bettye enlisted "dirty south" rockers The Drive By Truckers as her backup band. With swampy guitars, slippery Wurlitzer piano, and a driving backline, this record conjures up the spirit of great loose 70s bands like the Faces while offering Bettye an urgent, vital setting for her razor-sharp vocals. Recorded in Muscle Shoals, AL, where she recorded "Child Of The Seventies" in 1972 - a masterpiece that was shelved then released 30 years later. Returning to Muscle Shoals was like returning to the scene of a crime; thus the album title, and the intense, personal music within.
"I've got my mem-mor-eehees," sings Bettye LaVette at the chilling finale of her version of Elton John and Bernie Taupin's obscure "Talking Old Soldiers," holding the last syllable as it fades into a hum while Spooner Oldham's ghostly piano underpins the pain. The singer's whiskey-stained voice infuses those words with a fierce mix of pride, hurt, resignation, sadness, strength, and humility--traits that make her one of the finest R&B singers of her generation. There are other riveting moments rivaling that from this deeply moving set that finds her recording once again at Muscle Shoals' FAME Studios, the same place she created an album in 1972 that Atlantic inexplicably never released. Accompanied by Oldham and the swampy, tightly wound Drive-by Truckers, LaVette digs into material from John Hiatt, Willie Nelson, Frankie Miller, Eddie Hinton, and Don Henley, among others, finding the hidden soul in songs as she rips them apart from the inside out. It's a magnificent performance from a singer who shoots straight, especially on her autobiographical "Before the Money Came (The Battle of Bettye LaVette)," this disc's sole original. The Truckers dial down their raunchy Southern rock, concentrating instead on rugged R&B and creating a greasy collaboration that's as inspired as it is unlikely. Lavette grinds out the intensity, alternating between ballads and roots rockers on a set that never lets up for 40 passionate minutes. Soul music just doesn't get any more fiery, as Bettye Lavette creates indelible images of loves and lives with the voice of one who has walked the talk. --Hal Horowitz
More from Bettye LaVette
I've Got My Own Hell to Raise
A Woman Like Me
Take Another Little Piece of My Heart
Let Me Down Easy
The Very Best of the Motorcity Recordings
Do Your Duty
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