As fine as these cuts are -- and they are all solid, without a weak one in the bunch -- there are three clear head-and-shoulders winners. The first is a devastating and now definitive reading of Willie Nelson's "Somebody Pick Up My Pieces" that transcends its country roots and becomes a soul song in the classic Otis Redding tradition. It's draped in sorrow, which Neff's pedal steel underscores in every line.
Is there a more wrenching soul singer alive than Bettye LaVette? If so, keep it to yourself, because I’m too wrung out from The Scene of the Crime‘s intensity to take anything more emotionally potent. Following 2005’s Joe Henry-produced comeback disc, I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise, Drive-By Trucker Patterson Hood assumes the producer’s chair, and his band, the raggedy backup. The hard-livin’ laments aren’t always easy listening, so it’s a relief to get to ”Before the Money Came,” on which LaVette rejoices at age 61 in finally getting paid!DOWNLOAD THIS: Hear a preview of ”You Don’t Know Me at All” at Bettye LaVette’s Website .
It took Bettye LaVette more than 40 years to get the record deal she had chased since she was a 16-year-old; her second album in three years shows why that tenacity wasn't misplaced. Her voice has matured to a crackling growl, rich in colour and fierce emotion. It's particularly effective on a heartrending cover of Elton John's Talking Old Soldiers, and on the country lament Choices.