The album is split between atmospheric ballads, Lavette’s emotive vocals backed by...
Ben Wood 2007
Recently, there’s been a positive glut of previously-unheard-of ‘music-biz legends’ making comebacks. Step forward Bettye Lavette, the latest soul survivor to claw her way back from the brink.
The Scene of the Crime is recorded at Muscle Shoals’ legendary Fame studios, and features Lavette interpreting songs by the likes of Elton John, John Hiatt, Don Henley and Willie Nelson. Wait, come back! It is a lot more soulful, and less middle of the road, that these names might suggest.
Lavette’s collaborators – including Southern bar band, Drive By Truckers, and keyboard legend Spooner Oldham – have recreated the early 70s vibe of the studio’s heyday, in a gritty, proud and open-hearted work tinged with country and rock’n’roll, and filled with tales of life, love and hard knocks.
The album is split between atmospheric ballads, Lavette’s emotive vocals backed by keys, occasional pedal steel and little else; and rockier, mid-tempo numbers. By and large, the former are the most successful: highlights include the regretful Choices; Willie Nelson’s elegant lament “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces”; and, surprisingly the album’s stand-out, Elton John’s “Talking Old Soldiers”. This bar-room elegy to dead friends is the album’s emotional fulcrum, with echoes of early Tom Waits.
Elsewhere, there are hints of latter-day Dylan in the sardonic lyrics and phrasing of “Last Time”; and the classy soul/blues heartbreak of Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland on “Jealousy” and “I Guess We Shouldn’t Talk About That Now”. The fiery ‘I was right’ narrative of “Before the Money Came (Battle of Bettye LaVette)” sums up her career in under five minutes - full of soul and pride, and stubborn as a mule.
It hasn’t been an easy life for Lavette. So it would take a heart of stone to begrudge the late-found success of ‘the only 60-year-old black woman with a new three-record deal’.