Bettye LaVette returns to ‘The Scene of the Crime’
October 4, 2007
Here are capsule CD reviews of recent releases:Bettye LaVette, “The Scene of the Crime”produced by David Barbe, Patterson Hood & Bettye LaVette (Anti-)Bettye LaVette opens her latest CD with the line, “I’ve been this way too long to change now.” Which might be an honest sentiment for most 60-somethings who have been making blues records since their teens. But LaVette, a string beanlike dynamo, sounds as if she’s just getting started on “The Scene of the Crime.” For one thing, she shows a willingness to change with the times; here, she is backed by Southern-rock band Drive-by Truckers, whose lead singer, Patterson Hood, co-produced the album. “Before the Money Came” uses autobiography in an unusual way – the subtitle is “The Battle of Bettye LaVette” – giving a postmodern feel to the blues. With her reedy voice, swaggering attitude and no-nonsense songs, like Willie Nelson’s “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces” and Don Henley’s “You Don’t Know Me At All,” LaVette is all contemporary woman, hardly a relic.
Galactic, “From the Corner to the Block”produced by Count, Ben Ellman and Galactic (Anti-)New Orleans groove band Galactic used to have a singer, Theryl “Houseman” deClouet. It never quite worked, the mash-up of Galactic’s experimental groove and the r&b-ish vocals, so the two sides parted ways. But Galactic isn’t done with singers. “From the Corner to the Block” trades in a more traditional singer for rappers. Lots of rappers. The guests here include Lyrics Born, Chali 2Na from Jurassic 5, and Juvenile, their New Orleans homie, as well as several DJs. The new combo works: Gift of Gab, from Blackalicious, blends perfectly on “The Corner,” and when Galactic mixes old New Orleans and new hip-hop – as on “Second and Dryades,” which features Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Wild Magnolias, and the title track, with Juvenile and the Soul Rebels Brass Band – something new gets stirred up.Rob Mercurio noted that Galactic and rap have in common an emphasis on rhythm, making for comfortable bedfellows. But just as key here is that all the rappers they selected come from the conscious end of the spectrum. No gangstas here.
Johnny Irion, “Ex-Tempore”produced by Ryan Pickett & Irion (Rte 8 Records)Don’t you wish you could embrace Ryan Adams’ music without having to make apologies for his personal antics? Johnny Irion provides the perfect antidote on “Ex-Tempore.” As Adams often does, Irion seems to be channeling Neil Young’s “Harvest”-era country-rock, mixing strings and steel sounds in songs of family and dreams. But Irion does it by contributing his own instantly appealing songs, none more memorable than the gospel-touched “Short Leash,” with vocal backing by Sarah Lee Guthrie, Arlo’s daughter and Irion’s companion.Blame Sally, “Severland”produced by Blame SallyThis self-produced, self-released album by four San Francisco-area female folkies, goes way beyond all expectations. Blame Sally do sweet and pretty very well, but on “Severland,” the spot-on harmonies and gentle guitars often come out of tingling drones and darker sentiments. Someone here knows their way around a recording studio. Think a folkier Dixie Chicks, or a fresher version of the Indigo Girls.Blame Sally performs Friday at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale.
“Little Mo’ McCoury”(McCoury Music)Right-minded parents are constantly on the lookout for children’s music that won’t force the adults to leave the room. Add this one to the too-short pile. The Del McCoury Band, the greatest bluegrass group going, goes the kiddie route on “Little Mo’ McCoury.” The singing leans too far toward the wee ones, and this can be cloying, as on the “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” But they redeem themselves with the picking, which you’d never suspect wasn’t aimed at the most discriminating bluegrass fan.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org