Bettye’s business

The battles of a blues belter
By TED DROZDOWSKI  |  October 30, 2007

GARAGE R&B: The Drive-By Truckers have helped Bettye LaVette create the best Muscle Shoals soul album in more than 30 years.

Beyond the White Stripes: Alison Krauss and Robert Plant lead an Americana resurgence. By Ted Drozdowski

Bettye LaVette’s follow-up to her 2005 breakthrough, I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise (Anti-), debuted at #1 on the Billboard blues charts last month, keeping her “revival” — though really a long-awaited discovery — on track. But after four decades of bad deals and hard-times, LaVette is cautious about her new popularity. As she says, “I’ve seen a lot of sugar turn to shit in this business.”

Yet The Scene of the Crime has a sweet aura. It arrives as a new audience is finding roots rhythm and blues. The disc’s historic link is to the Muscle Shoals sound: a precise-but-greasy groove-oriented strain of ’60s R&B perfected by session players in that Alabama town for classics by Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and others.

Anti- label chief Andy Kulkin paired LaVette with Southern trash-rockers the Drive-By Truckers. Muscle Shoals veteran Spooner Oldham played organ. LaVette’s synch with the Truckers wasn’t easy. “I had to teach them to watch my body while I sang, because I move with every word and they needed to get the tempos just right or it wouldn’t work. I’m so grateful to them. They came in with their own ideas but relinquished themselves to me. I can’t compromise. They did everything they could to get where I was.”

A gritty highlight is the biographical “Before the Money Came (The Battle of Bettye LaVette).” The song was written by David Barbe, who produced with LaVette and Truckers guitarist Patterson Hood, but LaVette seized it. “I didn’t like anything he wrote. I am a song interpreter. I have never written a song in my life. But I rewrote all the words, and then we had it.”

A final twist: Hood’s father, bassist David Hood, was part of the original Muscle Shoals session team.

Related: Beyond the White Stripes, Bettye LaVette | Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, Turn the beat around, More more >
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