Friday, April 18, 2008

Bettye Lavette -- The Scene Of The Crime (2007)

Bettye Lavette -- The Scene Of The Crime (Anti)

I was one of the few people who wasn’t blown away by Lavette’s first album for Anti. I thought that Joe Henry’s production was part of the problem -- unlike his work with Solomon Burke, Henry seemed to treat Lavette like a museum piece, and her vocals had to compete with too respectful backing.

This new plate is more like it. Patterson Hood and his Drive-By Truckers mates team up with some vintage Muscle Shoals sidemen (Hood’s dad is one of them) and they get the right groove going for Bettye.

Her gravelly voice is defiant but it also sounds like every wound she’s received is still raw. If she wasn’t so good, this style might get wearing. But she’s more than good.

And the material is great, whether she’s seething about “Jealousy” (a fine Frankie Miller tune), or lamenting on Willie Nelson’s heartbreaking “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces”, Lavette is in tune with the central emotions of the song.

The album builds to a climax with a shattering tour-de-force performance of Elton John’s “Talking Old Soldiers”, where Lavette evokes every last drop of hurt and regret found in Bernie Taupin’s lyrics. This is followed by a rare self-composed tune (initially written by Hood and then transformed by Lavette). “Before the Money Came (The Battle of Bettye Lavette)” is sassy and triumphant, as Lavette’s own story is as compelling as the songs she interprets. To call this deep soul might be selling it short.

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