Friday, November 2, 2007

back . to . black

One warm spring night
On the first of November
Three bad betties put a wrong thing right

I should have known. With a year or so in hiding behind them, the queens of country stole our hearts in cowboy boots, sneakers and tentative smiles.

They’ve been up to no good in their downtime, it seems. “Black Betty,” the lead lady confided quietly last night, “had a baby”. This baby’s no new band member, though - it’s the music. Tey’ve christened the new addition “Mama Know Nothing” with typical country candour because they’re finding things out for themselves. They gave us a taste of a few brand new songs stripped down and stringed up before the boys came on stage with beats and bass. Never mind hors d’oeuvres. This is a musical mouthful.

The most powerful part of their music is not Sannie's astronomical voice that fills the room with shivers and fills your heart with hope. It’s the lead melodies and its seamless support. They’re strong and assured, and they ramble along country lanes, trip into dark pathways of the soul and tumble out of them into the sun again as effortlessly as a wandering breeze, or as suddenly as a storm, always filled with a robust lust for truth, however hard it kicks. It’s from this central point that they’ll expand. And with the indelible authority of Sonny's charisma, humour and hard wisdoms cutting into the air, there’s no going back. Unless it’s back. To black.

Galina’s fine fiddling dances between making your eyes spill and your feet tap and your heart swell. It’s violin without violence that embodies mood and emotion, and gives the songs a deeper dimension. Hagar’s electric baby croons and coos and sometimes slams with a tempered, integrated treatment that knows the difference between oohs, aahs and oomph. Together, the three sets of strings do delicious things, and their new, enthusiastic, articulate drummer, Ishai, is the cherry on the top, while Fez holds the bass line with a sublime smile and a bowler's hat. If Black Betty makes you feel motherless and godless at once once in a while, you’re not alone. If it makes you feel happy and hungry at the same time, welcome. Open wide, child. There are many mouths to feed in this family, though man shall not live by bread alone. ..

...but by every word. Their lyrics are lovely. Desultory and dramatically understated. Dark, with a smile. dangerous without apology. And incendiary. Listen to “Cuckoo Child” and “Country Woman” and tell me how old you think the lyricist is. For that matter, tell me who you think the lyricist is. then ask Black Betty. If both answers surprise you, you’re not half paying attention.

It’s clear they’re having a good time experimenting with rhythm. At times these forays into neighbouring territories of rock or blues are a little loose, tangential. The deviation can, at times, distract the critical ear from a yet-indefinable Something that is their elusive, emerging signature sound. But forsooth. It’s all part of the frantic fun of growing (up), and finding out, and the girls know that, and they allow themselves that, and I love them for that. For now, the bits of blues and tots of gospel in-between are crowd-pleasers that will, in time, undoubtedly mature and integrate into the full fabric of their music as their audience matures musically with them. “Mama know nothing” is a beautiful baby. Birthed by babes.

Damn you, country women. I want my heart back.

both pics property of Black Betty

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