September 25, 2007
Swing a calico kitten in most any metropolitan area, and you're bound to hit a burgeoning musician with an acoustic guitar and an ax to grind, soul to purge or evil ex to thrash.
The breed of folksy singer/songwriter has grown out of control. They're overrunning the modern musical landscape like ravenous prairie dogs. And it's become more difficult than ever to get yourself heard.
But Beth Amsel -- a sorta folksy singer/songwriter from Colorado who'll be performing in Hays on Wednesday night -- sets herself apart from the crowd with her sheer musical restlessness, her eclecticism of genres, styles and influences.
Now on her third full-length album, "The Reverie," Amsel covers everything from fast-charging folk rock to rueful country love songs to gleefully anachronistic tunes that sound like they came out of Tin Pan Alley.
It's the kind of boundless energy that'd make even a nervous smoker say, "Beth, calm down." And she told me she'll be performing some new material in Hays that dips into R&B.
"The singer/songwriter corner of the universe becomes almost background music to a lot of people because at a certain age you move on from being so self-reflexive and self-focused," Amsel said in a phone interview this weekend.
Her previous record, "Kindling," came after a rough and total transition in her life. She'd just ended a long relationship and lost someone very close to her. So it was a highly personal record for Amsel with a group of songs that reflected the grief in that stretch in her life.
"But you can only do so many records like that before it starts to get old," she said, "especially if you're a chick with a guitar. ... Music is the soundtrack to your life, and why would you want the soundtrack to your life to be so depressing all the time?"
Amsel's musical lexicon was rich and diverse enough that she didn't need to fall back on the cookie cutter singer/songwriter persona for which she obviously wasn't a good fit.
She likes just about every kind of music, except Fall Out Boy, a band she wants to find and do horrible things to every time one of their songs plays on the radio. She'd never heard of the post-post-post grunge rock of Hinder until I asked her about them. Her obliviousness is a true testament to her quality as an artist.
"I grew up with MTV," she said. "And I was way younger than the rest of my siblings, and they left all their records behind when they left for college" -- which makes a lot of sense as Amsel's music sounds like it would be most at home on vinyl. Though it would be hard to determine just what section of the record store you'd put her in.