Bettye LaVette, The Scene of the Crime

Note: The following artist performs Saturday or Sunday during the Big State Festival at Texas World Speedway, 17529 State Highway 6, College Station. Besides music, events include stock-car racing, a barbecue cook-off, mechanical bull riding, camping and more. Visit or call 512-888-7469 for tickets and/or further information.

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 America's greatest unsung soul singer 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," Victoria native 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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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray