Cool Spins

Bettye Lavette The Scene of the Crime(Anti) We last heard from Bettye Lavette in '05 when she released her Anti debut, I've Got My Own Hell to Raise.
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BETTYE LAVETTE
The Scene of the Crime
(Anti)

We last heard from Bettye Lavette in '05 when she released her Anti debut, I've Got My Own Hell to Raise. Producer Joe Henry helped capture Lavette's magnificent soul singing and brought the artist the attention she has deserved since Atlantic shelved the album she made for that label in 1972.

The Scene of the Crime matches Lavette with southern rockers the Drive-By Truckers, and two of the bandmembers, David Barbe and Patterson Hood, co-produced with Lavette. This may seem an unlikely combination, but Hood and Lavette actually have a shared past: Hood's father, David, is a longtime session guitarist who played on Lavette's long-neglected Atlantic debut. David Hood plays on Scene of the Crime, as does the great Muscle Shoals keyboard player Spooner Oldham. Combine these elements with the fact that Lavette and company recorded at FAME Studios, and the bridge from Lavette's early '70s soul to today's Truckers is complete.

LISTEN: Must Play
Before the Money Came

The sound that results after connecting these dots is nothing short of magical. Return is first and foremost a soul album with Lavette's passionate voice — as raw as Tina Turner, as heartfelt as Mavis Staples — at its core. Also out-front is Oldham's gospel-tinged piano and organ work. The Truckers take a gracious back seat to the mature artists on this album, but their presence is always felt, especially on up-tempo cuts like “Before the Money Came (The Battle of Bettye Lavette),” a song that Hood says he “co-wrote” with Lavette by noting her remarks in the studio and then setting her words to music. Are they going to tour together? We can only hope.

Producers: David Barbe, Patterson Hood, Bettye Lavette. Engineer: David Barbe. Studio: FAME Studios (Muscle Shoals, Ala.). Mastering: Gene Grimaldi/Oasis Mastering (Burbank, Calif.).
Barbara Schultz

JONI MITCHELL
Shine
(Hear Music)

There are a few artists who are vastly praised for their songwriting, but whose songs are so singular and personal that no one else can really pull them off. I think Joni Mitchell is one of these, which must be why I found the recent A Tribute to Joni Mitchell album vaguely disappointing. On the other hand, Mitchell's latest studio album — her first as the second artist signed to Starbucks' Hear Music label — comes from deep at the source. Mitchell embodies her songs: the syncopated rhythms, the ethereal jazz overtones, the velvet twists and turns of her singing. On Shine, the lyrics focus on Mitchell's concern for the planet, even including an update of “Big Yellow Taxi.” Mitchell is a national treasure, and with luck her Hear Music alliance will bring her songs to a new generation of coffee drinkers.

LISTEN: Must Play
Big Yellow Taxi

Producer: Joni Mitchell. Engineer: Dan Marnien. Studio: Studio Castle Oaks Productions (Calabasas, Calif.). Mastering: Bernie Grundman/Grundman Mastering (Hollywood).
Barbara Schultz

CORRADO RUSTICI
Deconstruction of a Postmodern Musician
(Sugar Music)

After 15 years of finding and producing top Italian artists, Corrado Rustici returns with a spectacular solo effort of his own. Perhaps best known to American listeners as a sideman whose brilliant guitar work has graced tracks such as Aretha Franklin's “Freeway of Love,” among many others, Rustici's latest combines vocal and instrumental tracks in what he calls “integral music.” I'm not sure about that label, but the music speaks for itself, incorporating rock, jazz and ambient stylings into a seamless, enjoyable blend. The recording is pristine, the mix warm and rich. Rustici also brings in familiar session players, including Steve Smith, Allan Holdsworth and Michael Manring, Peter Vettese and the Solis String Quartet.

LISTEN: Must Play
Maldette Stelle (featuring Italian vocalist Giuliano Sangiorgi)

LISTEN: Must Play
Tantrum to Blind (featuring Allan Holdsworth)

Producer: Corrado Rustici. Engineers: David Frazer, Luca Rustici. Studios: Fantasy (Berkeley, Calif.); Mulino Recording, LnR and Alari Park (all in Italy). Mastering: George Marino/Sterling Sound (New York City).
George Petersen

SIXX: A.M.
The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack
(Eleven Seven Music)

About six years after Mötley Crüe churned out its tell-all autobiography The Dirt, founding member/bassist Nikki Sixx turns the metal community on its head with his no-holds-barred Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star book (MTV/VH1 Pocket Books) and accompanying sonic diary. As for this “book soundtrack,” it illuminates Sixx's battle with a heroin addiction and much-publicized near-death experience. Interspersed with the circus-like rhythms of “Intermission” and more hardcore rock anthems such as “Tomorrow” are musings from Sixx that retrace the steps from his self-destructive behavior to self-proclaimed redemption. Dark and brooding, this audio companion will send shivers up anyone's arms, whether or not you're a Mötley Crüe /Sixx fan.

LISTEN: Must Play
Life Is Beautiful

LISTEN: Must Play
Girl With Golden Eyes

Producers: Sixx, James Michael, DJ Ashba. Engineering: Michael, DJ Ashba. Mixing: Michael. Mastering: Dave Donnelly/DNA Mastering.
Sarah Benzuly

LUCA
Fractions
(Funzalo)

The fine Tuscon band Luca has been moving increasingly into hook-heavy rock the past couple of years with always intriguing results. Frontman Nick Luca loves to vary guitar tones, amp colors and keyboard textures track to track, so there's lots of sonic variety. Though there's no denying the appeal of Luca's catchy and buoyant rock riffs, I actually prefer the moodier tracks here, such as “Bitten,” “Fires Burning” and the faithful but still very cool take on “Walk on the Wild Side.” The other cover is a real delight, too: Jonathan Richman's disco “I Was Dancing in a Lesbian Bar” will have you singing along the first time through! The one track that veers away from guitar-rock is also one of the best: The piano-driven “Down” is this album's unexpected gem.

Producer: Sean Slade. Engineers: Mike Prado and Slade. Mixed by Craig Schumacher. Studio: WaveLab (Tuscon). Mastering: Jeff Lipton/Peerless Mastering (Newtonville, Mass.).
Blair Jackson