As extraordinary as I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise was, this follow up is more of a chill-generator. The “scene of the crime” refers to Muscle Shoals, where LaVette cut early material. She hadn’t been back for 30 some years and reunited with stalwarts Spooner Oldham and David Hood for this extraordinary recording. Hood’s son Patterson produced the effort and played guitar with his band The Drive-By Truckers (what a cool band name!).
If there is a poster-child for a Tough Old Broad, LaVette is a natural. She’s all about spilling her emotions on the floor the way Tina Turner did 20 years ago. For my money, there’s more real grit and sweat equity in LaVette’s performances. The opening cut, Eddie Hinton’s “I Still Want To Be Your Baby, ” is subtitled “Take Me Like I Am” and sets the tone for the disc. “I’ve been this way for too long to change now” she sings. “So what if I drink a little bit/that’s alright/Daddy didn’t you tell me you like to hear me laugh?” The song selection is every bit as impressive as on the first Anti disc. Frankie Miller’s “Jealousy” has a nice slow burning groove on which Bettye captivates: “Honey it’s your foolish insecurity/you’ve got to rid yourself of jealousy.” She takes Don Henley’s “You Don’t Know Me At All,” with a comp intro from Oldham, to offer a perspective on the state of her world. Willie Nelson’s “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces” benefits from the elder Hood’s bass in tandem with Oldham’s keys and Hood the younger’s guitar and John Neff’s sweet steel. And, of course, it’s a Willie tune which guarantee’s first-rate song-smithing. This is the blues, folks.
John Hiatt’s “The Last Time” is given a rework that is killer: “Scoundrels know my whereabouts/they recognize me by my high heeled shoes.” Her version of Elton’s John’s “Talking Old Soldiers” is just amazing – “I know what they’re sayin’ son/there goes that old broad again/well I may be mad at that/But I’ve seen enough to make a young man go out his brains”
In Betty LaVette’s hands, these songs transcend words. Undoubtedly they were given fine renderings the first time around, but in the emotionally pliable voice of LasVette, they are masterpieces. Betty LaVette makes them hers.
The autobiographical “Before the Money Came,” the lone LaVette composition on the set, is a recitation of bad times about sleeping at her mother’s house, hanging with David Ruffin and the Temps, and watching her friends on the Grammies while she was trying to get it together in Detroit – before the money came. It was a struggle getting gigs for fifty bucks and now it’s about making decisions and realizing that she “never thought success would be hard to take.”
To call this one of the standout CDs of ‘07 is an understatement. This is gritty and moving, the hallmark of a work of genius. Bettye LaVette has waited a lifetime for the recognition she is now reaping. It may be overdue, but it is certainly not overly done. This is an artist deserving of a roomful of Grammies.