There is learning and there is knowing. From sit-ins, sessions, and sideman shifts, Duane Betts learned. Then, Duane Betts knew.
The Los Angeles-based guitarist, singer, and songwriter knew it was time to take all that he learned and make it his own. It was time to step out from the side of the stage and move to the center. After celebrated stints with folk-rock darlings Dawes and his dad Dickey Betts’ post-Allman Brothers Band outfit, Great Southern, Duane Betts knew it was time to go solo.
So, arrives his long-awaited recording debut: Sketches of American Music.
With venerable guitar, timeworn vocals and enlightened, seasoned songwriting on a six-pack of instant favorites, Duane delivers five of his own freshly-drawn rock-and-roll portraits brilliantly colored in country and blues, plus a special homage to his Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame dad Dickey Betts. Enlisting the guiding pen of respected songsmith Stoll Vaughan and veterans Steve Cropper (Booker T. & the M.G.’s) and Marc Ford (Black Crowes) for a production hand on sessions in Nashville and Los Angeles, Betts unveils an inaugural EP sure to cement his place as a solo artist all his own.
‘My mother, she married a ramblin’ man,’ Betts sings on the opening “Taking Time,” a rolling rocker that both acknowledges and separates Duane from his life-story. It’s a familiar theme running through the half-dozen tracks. To “Downtown Runaround,” and the powerful demons of temptation, too, it’s treacherous territory Betts sings of firsthand. His guitar, the fitting instrumental partner of pleading and catharsis; bending notes in tones truthful and resounding, red-hot and steel-blue.
“These songs don’t just reflect who I am,” says Betts. “They reflect feelings I hope are universal to everyone. I sure don’t think I have exclusive rights to the joy or the pain that life can bring.”
There’s the pensive, Cropper-helmed “When We Get Home,” and the nod to Dickey on a remake of his “California Blues,” as the scion shows he’s got some guitar licks tasty enough to make a father proud. Then, to Marc Ford producing and dusting off his drum skills for the acoustic-flecked ballad “‘Think I’m Doing Well.” One can almost see the sun, orange and radiating, sliding under the Pacific horizon.
The EP closes on “Ride It Out,” a beautifully unfolding bookend to a journey that started in the swamps of Florida, traces its way through Nashville, then the plains of Texas, and comes to rest the in the West Coast cradle of Southern California.
Duane Betts picked up a lot along the way. With every note and every word, he’s showing what he’s learned. Here are six of those Sketches of American Music.