The Scene of the Crime
[T]he beautiful banks of the Tennessee River [cut] through the middle of my home region, four towns in two counties in the northwest corner of Alabama known collectively as The Muscle Shoals Area. From the large windows of the Swamper’s you get a panoramic view of Wilson Dam, once the largest in the world and the first in what became the TVA Dam Project which created beautiful Wilson Lake and first brought electricity to my home region during Roosevelt’s days.
Besides the TVA dams, the other thing my hometown is famous for is it’s musical heritage. Beginning with the birth of WC Handy, who was born in Florence before going on to fame and fortune as “The Father of the Blues” through Sam Phillips who was born just north of town and moved to Memphis where he discovered Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis (to name a few) and became the accredited architect of Rock and Roll to Rick Hall who co-founded Florence Alabama Recording Enterprises (FAME) which proved to be a ground zero for the movement known as Soul Music and the first of several recording studios that captured the sounds and grooves of this area and broadcasted them to the world.
- Patterson Hood (from the album liner notes)
In these two paragraphs Patterson Hood, leader of the Drive-By Truckers, son of Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section legend David Hood, and a native of Muscle Shoals himself, cogently summarizes the critical importance of Muscle Shoals in the history of Southern music and American music. However, what can be said over two paragraphs can only be fully understood through hours and hours of listening.
Muscle Shoals may have served as a birthplace to musical legends in it early years, but for many its allure was an almost endless series of recordings done there during the late 60's and early 70's. Some are still heard on the radio today such as the Rolling Stone's "Brown Sugar" and Paul Simon's "Kodachrome". However, the musical treasures, for anyone willing to dig a little deeper, are the smaller Southern artists that cut sides under the tutelage of greats like Rick Hall, Jerry Wexler, or the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
Bettye LaVette cut a record worth of material back for Atlantic in the early 70's that became a lost classic since it was never officially released. (A French label re-issued it a little while back and Rhino Handmade finally made a version available last year.) This non-release kept Ms. LaVette from ever reaching any real fame during that time, the tail-end of the Southern soul era. However, it kept her close to the hearts of soul music aficionados.
Two years ago, Anti Records released a fantastic return for LaVette called I've Got My Own Hell To Raise produced by acclaimed roots music guru, Joe Henry. Now, they've upped the ante (no pun intended) by drafting Patterson Hood to bring it all back home by recording LaVette at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals.
Everything is done in old school Muscle Shoals style. An eclectic mix of songwriters are featured from Willie Nelson to Elton John to Eddie Hinton. Hood co-produced with LaVette and David Barbe. The Drive-By Truckers serve as the core backing band augmented by Patterson's father David and the always wonderful Spooner Oldham.
People sometimes forget that Muscle Shoals was also a critical birthing place for Southern Rock. Duane Allman spent his formative years doing session work before moving on to form the Allman Brothers Band, and a young Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded its first demos there as well. Having the Drive-By Truckers, a band who carries the flag for Southern Rock here in the modern era, fall back into the role of backing musicians where many Southern Rock musicians started not only works in execution, it reminds us all how close Southern Rock and Southern Soul really were.
Happily, "The Scene of the Crime" completely succeeds on all levels. It is one of the few times where the story behind the record doesn't overshadow the music contained within. The Drive-By Truckers back back the loose magic that highlighted the greatest Muscle Shoals recordings. Passion, not precision, rules the day.
- Jim Markel