Womenfolk Finds Beth Amsel

By Ellen Stanley

I thought I’d kick this column off by featuring an artist that you might not have heard of but really should have by now—Beth Amsel. Probably best known for her work with the project Voices on the Verge (featuring Erin McKeown, Jess Klein and Rose Polenzani), Beth is a Colorado songwriter with a voice that The Boston Herald has called “simply one of the most beautiful on today’s folk scene.” Despite the fact that she has made appearances on national radio programs Mountain Stage and World Café and has opened for the likes of Greg Brown, Kelly Joe Phelps and Tom Rush, she remains largely unknown, even to many folk-minded folks. Why this is I’ll never know. Maybe it’s because she’s not on a record label and instead chooses to self-release her albums. Maybe it’s because she’s never sold her music to be on a television commercial or had a song featured on the WB. It’s certainly true that she hasn’t put out a flashy single that’s caught everyone’s attention. On the contrary, Beth has done what many singer-songwriters are incapable of—put out consistently solid albums with smart lyrics, catchy melodies and beautiful production. One song doesn’t stand out above the rest for one simple reason: they’re all good. Whether she is singing about cornfields, war-ravaged love or the stories of strangers, rest assured that you will be entranced by this woman’s thoughtful writing and impressive vocals.

On her third album The Reverie Beth takes us on a journey of homecoming. From the opening traveling lines of “Michigan” to the swinging love song “Come Up,” Beth sounds like a woman reborn. And after her last album of heartache and farewell it is high time for a record of hope and restoration. Even the haunting “Inman’s Lament” is, at its heart, a love song. Inspired by Charles Frazier’s Civil War novel Cold Mountain, the song explores what it means to make the hard journey back home and the love that calls us back there. “Inman’s Lament” is also a perfect example of the interesting yet not overstated production present throughout the album. Produced by David Chalfant (Erin McKeown, Stephen Kellogg, The Nields) and featuring appearances by Lorne Entress, Katryna Nields and Jim Henry, The Reverie reveals the best of Beth Amsel. Chalfant, who also produced her previous record, lets her voice shine and the songs stand on their own merit. His use of pop, swing, folk and country styles never overshadows the songs but instead gives them new and vibrant life.

Beth Amsel’s new album is just another wonderful example of the mature songwriting and fine musicianship that she consistently puts out for a small audience to enjoy. There is, however, no reason why her audience should be so small. I’m hoping that The Reverie will be the album that changes that for her and draws in the numbers of listeners that she deserves.

Ellen works for independent roots label Red House Records and hosts a weekly women’s folk music program on KFAI in the Twin Cities. Click here to check out her show and to hear this month’s “Womenfolk Find.”
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