Sketches of American Music
Duane Betts (Great Southern, Dawes) is no stranger to the music world, and it is that very realm that has inspired his debut release, a six-song EP entitled Sketches of American Music. Woven with a rich tapestry of country, blues and roots rock/Americana and drawing from his storied upbringing as the son of legendary Allman Brothers Band original member, Dickey Betts, the younger Betts has successfully painted his stories through music, and the title could not be more apropos. Stepping out of the shadow of his famous father while still acknowledging and honoring his music, this gifted singer/songwriter/guitarist offers five tracks written or co-written by him and a cover of one of his father’s songs. Chronicling love, loss and real life, each cut highlights the human, vulnerable side of all of us, not just Betts. “These songs don’t reflect who I am. They reflect feelings I hope are universal to everyone. I sure don’t think I have exclusive rights to the joy or the pain that life can bring.” The variety of guest musicians and producers brings a different feel to each track.
Betts kicks off with “Taking Time,” one of four tracks co-written with guitarist Stoll Vaughan (who also plays acoustic guitar on this one and produced three others). Cutting right to the chase, Betts portrays his whirlwind life in three terse lines: “Born out west in the ocean wind/Gone pretty far but back again/My mother she married a ramblin’ man.” Betts has split his time between California and Florida, and the obvious reference to his father’s hit with the Allman Brothers Band serves to clarify his upbringing while still giving his father a well-deserved nod. Demian Arriaga lends his drum skills on this country-flavored tune, which smacks a bit of The Eagles’ “Take It Easy.” With some excellent guitar work from Betts and Vaughan, it is the perfect opener.
The darker, bluesier rocker, “Downtown Runaround,” highlights the dangerous enticements life can offer. Produced by Antoine Arvizu (who played drums as well), it also includes guitarist Johnny Stachela and some very nice keys work from Steve Taylor, as does the Steve Cropper-produced “When We Get Home,” with stellar slide guitar from Stachela.
Paying homage to the elder Betts, Duane tackles his dad’s “California Blues” off 1977’s Dickey Betts & Great Southern, tweaking the original faster tempo and heavy country sound to a slightly slower tempo with a bit more rock while maintaining the country flair. It really gives Betts a chance to showcase his guitar skills.
The real standout gem is also the only one solely written by Betts. “Think I’m Doing Well,” a ballad that highlights Betts on brilliantly understated, smooth lead guitar, Pedro Arevalo on superbly subtle lap steel, Mike Malone’s beautiful keys work and the incomparable Marc Ford (The Black Crowes, The Magpie Salute) handling production and drums (yes, drums!). There is an unexpected and surprising drum fill throughout that fits just right. Hats off to Betts for some quality writing and Ford on a masterful production job. It places the listener on the journey right along with its author, and it is one to replay again and again.
Closing it out with another look into life’s roller-coaster journey, “Ride It Out” follows Betts on his trip back to California from Florida and covers everything in between, including his admission that he is only human. “I was born in a line of devils and ghosts/Just give it time/They come and go/You see it in my eyes/Hope you understand/I hurt you I love you/Still the same man.”
This EP is a major milestone for Duane Betts, both personally and professionally. He has shown a musical maturity not only in his writing, but in his singing and playing as well. Clearly cathartic in its open, honest approach, it could be the story of anyone, a story relatable to most. Betts is currently on tour as direct support for The Devon Allman Project (and also performs a collaborative set with Allman and his band).