Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Charlie Betts' unique, divisive voice carries his album

January 26, 2011

The alt-country/Americana songs that Charlie Betts presents on Under Construction all hinge on his unique voice. His tunes don’t traverse far from time-honored instrumental traditions in the country genre: snare shuffle, accordion, slide guitar, acoustic strum and stand-up bass. The rustic sound hits the ear very well; the performances are spot-on, and the production is tight and bright. The immaculate instrumentation and songwriting don’t allow for those elements to be the defining aspect of Betts’ sound, and thus that honor falls to his voice.

The British Betts has a voice that you will remember instantly, for good or for ill. Those on the ill side will say that his nasally warble is off-putting and irreconcilable with the otherwise standard tunes. Those on the pro- side of things will say that the instruments provide a vessel for Betts’ real instrument. Those who are drawn in by unusual voices will find much to love in Betts’ songwriting, as it is the centerpiece of each of these tunes. Even The Mountain Goats don’t stress the vocals as much as Betts does.

Again, there are some who will say that he’s leaning too hard on a bad thing. Others will celebrate his songwriting and punk-rock spirit (“Just ’cause you say I can’t doesn’t mean I can’t”). This is a call you’ll have to make yourself, because whether I like it or not will have no effect on how it hits your ear. As for me, I like his calmer songs (“The Meaning of Freedom,” “Remember the Sun”) better than his faster ones, as I feel his voice fits best in them. Fans of alt-country and Americana should check this out.

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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