Bettye LaVette is one of those good stories of the record business. She’s the kind that you don’t hear and see every day. She has never sold her sound or her soul to the big labels to sell records. Her unabashed style and grace coats every song. With 2005’s “comeback” album I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise, LaVette finally started getting credit and nods from the record labels and the Grammy nominators. With 2007, the world came calling and Scene of the Crime delivered. Recorded in the landmark FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama; LaVette returns to familiar territory where she recorded the 1972 sessions of Child of the Seventies which remained shelved by Atlantic Records for almost 30 years.
Bordering on a cover album, similar to the formula of Hell, LaVette crisses and crosses between genres interweaving her inspired interpretations with each vocal phrase. LaVette wraps her raspy vocals around Eddie Hinton’s "I Still Want to Be Your Baby (Take Me Like I Am) with a stern conviction when she preaches: “I’ve Been This Way Too Long to Change Now.” Much like contemporaries Little Milton and Solomon Burke, LaVette doesn’t shy away from country and western. With the second track of the album “Choices,” LaVette revives a late-catalog George Jones classic about redemption and personal epiphany with Spooner Oldham offering a beautiful piano solo. It is in these bare minimal settings with just vocals and an instrument or two that LaVette’s beautiful vocal nuance is allowed to spread its wings.
If Tina Turner were to come back
to her roots at classic R&B and soul, she would find herself out of
business already because LaVette has taken the throne. Drifting back
and forth over Don Henley, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, John Hiatt;
this album was a shoe-in for folks to take notice of it. However, it
is the Elton John album cut from 1970’s Tumbleweed Connection,
“Talking Old Soldiers,” that landed LaVette the hallmark of her
career. With the defiant, expressive, anecdotal sounds in each lyric
of the ballad; you would believe that LaVette had lived every letter
in the story of the old hag drinking at the bar that she’s singing
Finally, LaVette puts you to bed
again with the bare minimum arrangement on the country & western
cheating song "I Guess We Shouldn't Talk About That Now.” As
LaVette’s vocals fade out the track, you the listener will yearn for
more. You’ll play it again and again picking up something new each
time you listen. With LaVette being a victim of timing for a release
year, she probably should’ve won something big for this album.
However, that’s been the story of LaVette’s career. She’ll take the
lumps and sing about it later. Then, you’ll buy the album.
Ben Cox is a Blues Songwriter, Musician, DJ and Journalist.