|Eagle Times, New Hampshire
December 2, 1999
By Cassie D. Lavertue
Ask Beth Amsel when she started singing and writing songs and she'll say it was just five years ago, the same time she began playing guitar. Her answer is quite beguiling, since her debut CD, A Thousand Miles, wears its folk badge witha sound like thunder and soft rain, simultaneously ancient and proud after traveling through the sky's sphere's yet gentle and welcomed and soothing to the spirit.
Amsel took up the guitar when a friend exchanged the instrument for some bail money, but he never came back to reclaim it. Amsel acknowledges that she can't even remember his name now, but as far as she-and her regiment of fans-are concerned, he did her a favor. That's when she truly found herself.
Following the demise of a long relationship, Amsel sought out ways to mend her heart and her soul, and she found solace in her guitar.
''I had all this time on my hands to figure out what to do,'' she explained during a recent telephone interview from her Massachusetts home. ''It became such an important comfort, a way to heal.''
Fastening onto the guitar opened up a new world of singing and songwriting for Amsel. Where she had previously only performed to amuse herself and family (she said she was a ''ham'' growing up, bribing anyone, including the UPS man, to watch her display, and said by the age of five had memorized all of her older sister''s Rolling Stones rock albums to her parents' despair), and in various musical plays through high school and college, she soon began playing to packed houses in her native Colorado, where she had lived since moving there from Long Island at age 13. In 1997 Amsel relocated to New England - A potbelly of folk stew - to hone her craft and ''be with other people who were doing what I was doing,'' and she quickly caught the attention of music critics here.
''Amsel possesses a pure voice that flits easily from Joni Mitchell to duskier Dar Williams...a voice that seems destined for something big,'' wrote Roger Catlin of the Hartford Courant when A Thousand Miles was released in tape form in 1997.
''Beth...has a voice that could melt ice. Her voice coas and dips and glides effortlessly, reaching into the soul and expressing emotions we try to keep inside,'' said Jeff Gilson of Lively Lucy's Coffeehouse in Saratoga Springs, NY.
Though Amsel, 28, has only been on the music circuit for a short time, her voice - and her lyrics - convince the listener that a much older Amsel has taken the long road home, and was joined by some of folk's more well known artists along the way. One writer compared her voice to that of Sarah McLachlan and Emmylou Harris - an analogy that Amsel appreciates, but doesn't necessarily agree with. She calls Harris the ''grand dame of female singers.''
''It's difficult to describe your own voice,'' she responded when asked to characterize her own sound. ''Sometimes people base opinions on whatever they are listening to at the time...that writer asked me a lot about Emmylou and was listening to her Wrecking Ball album. So I am flattered with the comparison.''
Amsel said when she first arrived in the Northeast, she was overwhelmed with her life choice and went into self-examination mode questioning whether she was doing the right thing. Now she has no doubt that she made the right decision.
''I think about this a lot, about finding your passion and pursuing it...and I do think 'take your passion and make it your career,' ''explained Amsel. ''If something moves me enough to sing about it and the audience gets it...it makes me feel as if I've done my job realy well.''
The integral piece of the puzzle, says Amsel, is making sure that the message she is sending is postmarked to her audiences. If not, and the connection is not made, then she says she wouldn't stay in the business. She calls it a ''circular process.''
''I feel like I am a conduit between the range of emotions and people,'' said Amsel, adding that for her, there are distinct variances between performing and songwriting. ''A performance is relaying emotions and giving it to the audience. Songwriting has always been a mysterious beast for me; it's a personal, private thing for me. Performing is taking the private and bringing it to the public, '' she said.
Amsel was reassured of her conviction these last few months, when a serious car accident in Spetember derailed her fall touring schedule. Before that, she had been slowing down a bit on her travels during the spring and summer months. So when she finally got back on stage opening for Greg Brown at the Bellows Falls Town Hall in November, Amsel was forced to sit through the entire set because of her neck and head injuries, but she was relieved to be back in her element.
''It's a funny thing,'' remarked Amsel, whose laugh is as infectious and melodic as her candescent singing voice, ''it's made me committed to what I do. It's reminded me that I really love, love to play,'' she said emphatically. ''It's a rare opportunity to stand still and re-evaluate.''
Fortunately, Amsel won't be standing still in the near future. She said she plans to make a recording with the foursome ''Voices on the Verge,'' a touring roadshow she performs with, this spring, and is set to release a second solo album next summer. Amsel said this next record is made of different stuff than A Thousand Miles.
''The first CD was about traveling life...the material I'm writing now explores love more,''she said, adding with a peal of laughter that "all my songs aren't all about driving anymore.''