As a rule, I don't like singers who only perform other people's songs. We don't celebrate authors who simply re-tell other writer's stories, and we don't go to galleries to see paintings by artists who blatantly copy other artists, so why should we praise singers who only sing other people's songs?
Bettye LaVette has made me reconsider the value of my rule. LaVette does magical things to other people's songs. She finds things in the originals that none of us knew were there, and she reinvents the songs based on her discoveries.
On the surface, this album is similar to LaVette's first release on Anti Records. On closer listen, though, it feels totally different. This album seems darker and more painful than I've Got My Own Hell to Raise. Almost as if LaVette raised her hell, and is now sitting in the aftermath, looking around at how different things have become.
The Scene of the Crime is unquestionably a soul record, but hints of rock and country flow through it. It might be because producer Patterson Hood and most of LaVette's session band are all members of alt-country heavyweights Drive-By Truckers, or it might be because LaVette understands all great music shares a common spirit that transcends categorization. Take a listen to Willie Nelson's "Somebody Pick Up My Pieces" and you'll hear how LaVette found the soul inside a great a country song.
And don't even get me started on her rendition of Elton John's "Talking Old Soldiers". This one gives me chills.
The liner notes follow the same basic theme as LaVette's last album: simple design, minimal use of color, a few stark photos, detailed credits, and an essay. The essay is well-written, and it gives me an appreciation for pretty much every person and place that was involved in the making of this record. On the downside, the photos -- mostly of the vintage studio gear from Muscle Shoals' Fame Studios -- are generic, and the striped back cover doesn't make any sense. I guess it's supposed to represent the stripes on a prison uniform, but it just looks like some kind of random, seizure-inducing optical illusion.
Listen if you like: Tina Turner, Wilson Pickett, Drive-By Truckers
If it were food, it'd be: a late-night shot of whiskey in a lonely Alabama dive bar