Photos by Liz Dutton
Poster art by Joe Mruk
Additional info provided by Andy Mulkerin
If you know the Pittsburgh music scene, you know the name Jeff Betten. Currently serving as General Manager for Misra Records (with previous experience managing Wild Kindness, a label that now falls under the Misra umbrella), Betten has been a key behind-the-scenes figure for years. Whether he’s tweeting about an upcoming release, attending a local show (where I’ve run into him on more than one occasion), or guest writing reviews on this very website, it’s clear that Betten lives and breathes local music. But this Saturday, November 4th, he’ll be moving from behind the desk (or the mixing board) to behind the microphone, with a record release of his very own. His tracks “Small Doses” and “Learning It As I Go” will be available on a self-titled 7” record, and handed to everyone who attends the release show (slash birthday party) at James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy that same night.
But two songs hardly make a concert, so Betten will be bringing some of his many talented friends along for the ride. Chet Vincent (signed to Misra with his band, The Big Bend), Morgan Erina, Nathan Zoob (of Wreck Loose), Andre Costello, Dan Styslinger (of Delicious Pastries and Seedy Players), and Dhruva Krishna (of Manic Soul and Eastend Mile) are just a few of the special guests on this lineup. The setlist will consist of the featured artists’ original songs, as well as crowd-pleasing covers from the early 2000’s. Considering both Misra’s and Betten’s inclinations towards the indie rock genre, drawing from this time period makes sense.
As for the new songs themselves, they’re charming amalgamations of folk, pop, and classic rock, with prominent keys and soulful guitar lines. Those who know Betten’s enthusiastic, boisterous conversational voice might be surprised to hear his vocals: they’re soft, even muted, with vague tonal parallels to Lou Reed. In “Small Doses,” Andy Mulkerin gets it right when he describes Betten’s voice as a “throaty whisper.” The track is a lilting, midtempo blues-y ballad, with an extended moody keyboard riff that’s especially effective. “Learning It As I Go” is decidedly sunnier, the lyrical message of reassurance and forward motion reflected in the upbeat instrumentals. The periodic dips into minor and seventh chords provide fitting pauses for contemplation about what it took to get to this more accepting state of mind. Here in particular, Betten’s long-distance collaboration with Adeline Hotel guitarist Dan Knishkowy proves to be a resonant one.
The sad, shocking news of James Street’s imminent closing on November 11th makes a show like this all the more relevant. It embodies the talent and the spirit of community that makes the Pittsburgh scene so special. In fact, Betten himself admits his inspiration draws from WDVE radio host Randy Baumann’s semi-annual Ramble, a full-length concert which puts many local all-stars from various groups and projects onstage together. If the success of those shows is anything to go by, we’ll be in for a damn good time on the 4th. And if James Street has to go out at all, it’s fitting that it goes out in such collaborative style.
Despite its melancholy surroundings, the recurring line in “Small Doses” is “But don’t you worry now/’cause we’ll be fine.” In the context of recent events, both locally and in the world at large, it’s a timely and necessary sentiment.
Tickets to the show are $10 and going fast; find them here or (maybe) at the door. Admission gets you a free, multicolored copy of Betten’s 7” vinyl, as well as the knowledge that you attended one of the last shows at this important, historic Pittsburgh venue. This show is all ages, with doors opening at 8 PM and the music getting underway at 9. More info can be found on the Facebook event page here.
(For my previous story on James Street’s struggle to stay open, click here.)