|Crescent Moon to host singer-songwriter Amsel
By: Hilary Stohs-Krause
It may seem strange, but singer-songwriter Beth Amsel loves driving through western Nebraska.
"It's that rolling hill country, and you follow the Platte River the whole way, and it's beautiful," she said in a recent interview. "And I also love cows, which sounds ridiculous, but I went to high school on a cattle ranch."
It might also be surprising that this self-professed Great Plains fan spent the first 13 years of her life in Long Island, N.Y.
"It was suburbia, strip malls, tight jeans, black eyeliner, big hair," she said. "I kind of always felt like I was in the wrong place. New York didn't really feel like home."
Amsel, who's playing tonight at 7 at Crescent Moon Coffee, 816 P St., decided at age 13 to move to Colorado, where an older sister lived.
"My parents thought it was great," she said. "I was a very bright, very bored kid, which is just this total recipe for disaster on Long Island."
She attended boarding school in a small town in western Colorado, light-years away from the "cultural sinkhole" of her former home.
About 12 years later, Amsel returned to the East Coast and began singing and performing in earnest.
While living in rural Colorado, with access to little more than public radio, Amsel said she "completely fell out of the pop music landscape. I didn't know anything that was contemporary from about 1985 to 1990. Then there was that kind of bloom of folk music, with Suzanne Vega and Shawn Colvin and Tracy Chapman ...
"It's basically going to singer-songwriter college, living in New England," she said. "It gave me a wide appreciation for a variety of music."
The youngest by far of five siblings, Amsel was also exposed to contrasting styles of music during her early years.
"Every time my siblings went off to college, they'd leave their album collections behind," she said. "I listened to a lot of mid-century pop standards because of my parents, and had a sister who loved country music and a sister who loved punk music and a sister who loved the Grateful Dead, and a brother who loved jazz."
Despite such a broad range of influences, however, she said her two greatest remain Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty, and it shows.
Following in the vein of Omaha's indie-twang style, Amsel showcases a clear, strong voice, reminiscent of an older Sarah Benck. She delves into several genres, including alternative country, modern jazz, 1960s pop and blues, all with a solid folk background.
Jeff Martinson, co-owner of Crescent Moon, said that while he hadn't heard Amsel's music before they booked her show, it's been playing non-stop in the coffee shop since.
"We've been playing her constantly," he said. "I think it's wonderful. It's some of the freshest writing and one of the more folky, soulful voices that I've heard that come through here, or that I've honestly heard anywhere."
He struggled at first to find comparable artists, saying, "She's definitely better than Jewel."
"If Jo Dee Messina wrote her own music more, it would be similar to that," Martinson said. "There's definitely some country influences there, but without all the twang, and it's not cliched, which is one of the things I really like about it."
Amsel herself said she plays eclectic or industrial folk, blending veins of swing, pop and rhythm and blues.
As an independent artist, she added, genres aren't as important.
"A lot of artists coming out of Omaha are independent, too, and you don't have to be pigeonholed," she said. "One should never confuse commerce with art, but when you're independent and you don't depend on being marketable for your livelihood, you have such incredible freedom ..."