Image © Cocoon Records LLC 2008
Image © Cocoon Records LLC 2008
(09 February 2008) Shine (Cocoon Records (USA) 060868, 2008) is Sarah Bettens' second solo album. In a time of sterile studio-sound productions, Sarah surprises with a highly personal album that provides musical and lyrical content that is direct and rough, and that penetrates your soft spots.
Produced by Brad Wood, the album succeeds to give a very intimate feeling. Listening makes one feel bare and exposed, caught in the action, as if Sarah and her band are playing in the very same room, directly engaging the listener.
Sarah's voice, as always casts a spell, being mysterious and husky, yet smooth, velvety and energetic all at the same time. At times it truly shines above the crisp texture of guitars that defines Sarah's sound since the beginning of her career in her former band K's Choice. At other times her voice cracks in honesty and pain. Maryanne Marino enthusiasts will naturally be drawn to Sarah's vocal work.
The album opens with "I Can't Get Out," a song that is the narrative of a young insecure woman, trapped in an emasculating relationship. The song succeeds to describe this smothering feeling of being stuck in one's own circles, flooded with shame and disappointment of a strange self. The repetitive chorus-line visualizes that scary cycle. Sarah's voice which stretches on top of an aching blend of melodic guitar lines and cymbals provides a spinning result, as the narrator submissively accepts her faith; in the simple acknowledgement "this is all I know to be."
Bearing the album's title "Shine," the next track is quite the opposite of the previous one. Out of bitter-sweet stripped down verses, an open chorus arises with major hopeful chords that cast some optimism and warmth upon the listener. "Daddy's Gun" is a mysterious saga that discusses the unbearable lightness of teenage access to firearm. The static guitar line, the soft military roll in the back, the ghost-like vocal backgrounds, and the low-story telling main vocal melody, all combine well together in creating an atmosphere of suppressed violence and stress. Sarah portrays a small picturesque U. S. town, while under the surface danger approaches, a clear result of the influence of the Belgium's artist past years in the States.
"Just Another Day" is a melancholy beautiful ballad of mature love. This common state in a relationship when realism takes over, and the blinding light of romantic love is replaced by lucid white neon. Totally stripped down to guitars, soft brushing drums and a single vocal line, this song captures the listener in its sincerity.
"Pave the Way" is a beautiful personal confession. Whether it is fictional or autobiographic, it conveys the process of coming out. Picturing the painful and brave aspects of being different, it is a manifesto of individuality and courage, and in that sense, relevant to any listener, gay or straight. "Driving Alone", is a great morning song, evoking energy and healthy common sense; "If I took everybody seriously, who said they loved my show, I'd be going left, going right, and standing still at the same time, but I'll go whenever I need to go ..." is a unique declaration, of self irony which pauses Sarah in a very realistic position that is the contrary of what we imagine rock stars to be.
"Coasting Speed" is another great song. Bewitching with its unique groove and minimalist melodic line, it is one of the album's pearls. The album closes with the chilling ballad "The Soldier Song." Once again, the American daily agenda invades Sarah's reflections, and emerges in the form of this moving narrative of a soldier posted far away from home. With nothing but her velvety voice and an acoustic guitar Sarah raises eternal existential questions of the necessity to fight or die for an ideological reason that isn't really yours.
Sarah Bettens is a truly gifted singer-songwriter that once again has succeeded to create a musical realm that is organic and true. She doesn't try to revolutionize the sound of the rock world, but concentrates on capturing the human experience in its full range. Compared to a multi-million dollar sci-fi Spielberg production, this album is more like a well directed Sydney Pollack drama, defined, intense and moving in its authenticity. On first hearing, it is pleasant and mellow,
but on second and third, it is an album that takes you places from deep inside.--Yael Akron of Manga in Tel Aviv, Israel; edited by Russ Elliot in New York