Bettye LaVette

The Scene of the Crime (Anti)

The bar in the Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Marriott is called Swampers, after the house band at nearby FAME Studios that played on many of the greatest soul records ever made — Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, and so forth. Detroit-born Bettye LaVette's 1972 album, Child of the Seventies, could have been on that list but was inexplicably shelved by Atlantic Records. Scene of the Crime, recorded at FAME with Swampers keyboardist Spooner Oldham bridging past and present and Drive-By Truckers standing in for the rest of the group, can't change what might have been, but it furthers LaVette's reputation as one of America's greatest soul singers and suggests Oldham should consider joining the Truckers full-time. LaVette has an impeccable ear for inadvertently autobiographical material — here, it's Willie Nelson's "Pick Up My Pieces," Frankie Miller's smoldering "Jealousy," Don Henley's "You Don't Know Me at All" — one of the few songs that allows the Truckers to stretch out — and, most improbably, Elton John's "Talking Old Soldiers." Accompanied only by Oldham's soft piano, LaVette's raspy voice burns with the aftertaste of memories that don't rest easy. "I've seen enough to make a man go out his brains," she sings, and only a fool would doubt she has.

 
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