Still banging on about the Glasgow Americana Festival (which starts today folks, see here for details) we were surprised to find Betty Soo scheduled to appear. Blabber’n’Smoke encountered Betty’s fine albums back in 2011 here and here after which she seemed to drop off the map. Well, perhaps she was quiet on the album front but according to her press release she’s been busy; touring, attending to friends with personal and mental health problems and managing her own health which has been problematic at times.
Nice then to hear that Soo remains at the top of her game on When We’re Gone, a swoonful mix of laid back country and folk styled songs, her wonderful voice surrounded at times by the graceful pedal steel stylings of Lloyd Maines or marinated in soothing cello. The cello is played by Soo’s primary foil here, producer Brian Standefer who recorded the album at his studio in Texas and together the pair have crafted an exquisite piece.
There are songs that have the inbuilt pain and heartache one expects from Mary Gauthier, The Things She Left Town With being the primary example. It’s a wonderful song, hesitant and painful, Soo’s voice emotional but distant, observing the scene as Will Sexton skilfully fleshes it out with some mournful guitar flourishes. There’s sadness scattered throughout the album. Last Night aches with betrayal as does Josephine, a song that that could have been written by Janis Ian, its inner city folkiness redolent of bed sit listening. Aside from some of the country leanings and its Texas origins, most notable on the curling guitar of Sexton on Love Is Real, the album actually is more akin to late night musings in Greenwich Village. The Paul Simon styled title of 100 Different Ways Of Being Alone is home to a relatively fast paced deliberation on alienation and loneliness while Hold Tight swims with shimmering cello and recalls Laura Nyro’s city ballads.
When We’re Gone is an album that should mark Ms. Soo out as a major talent, her voice is like crystal, her songs heartfelt and delivered with grace and beauty. Any doubts as to this should be dispelled by her crowning achievement here, the heart rending Nothing Heals A Broken Heart. A meditation on a mother’s loss of her child it’s a monumental song, borne along on a weeping cello with an empathetic rhythm section the song weeps tears as Soo captures the mother’s pain in a series of vignettes opening with these lines.
We took your seat out of the car after a couple of weeks but your room is still unchanged/ Yellow and lime Jeans still crumpled in the basket/a small tear on the left knee from a big old oak you were proud to climb.
Five and a half minutes of heartache, the bass like a heartbeat and Soo, harmonising with herself, drenched in regret, it’s one of the best songs we’ve heard this year. Listen and weep.
As we said above Betty Soo is appearing at Glasgow Americana. She’s appearing with Danny Schmidt at The Glad Cafe on Saturday 10th October and on the strength of this album you’d be daft not to see her.