By Al Kaufman
Back in the ‘90s, Sarah Bettens fronted the Belgian alt-rock band, K’s Choice. Their biggest US single, “Not an Addict,” celebrated sobriety so darkly that it would only seem upbeat to heroin addicts. Since that time Bettens has made more than a few transformations. The band broke up (although plans are in the works for a reunion album), Bettens got divorced and came out as a lesbian, and she made the change from dark, brooding rocker to emotional pop songstress.
On Shine, her second solo release, Bettens proves that, like the Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray (a band K’s Choice opened for on one of their first tours), Bettens still has enough grit to ensure her songs will not be played in elevators anytime soon. She shows off her rock and roll chops on her cover of Ray’s “Put It Out for Good,” but, oddly enough, that is probably the least Amy Ray sounding song on the disc. Opening track, “I Can’t Get Out,” sounds like a leftover from her debut solo CD, Scream, in which she documented her divorce and her experiences of coming out.
The song focuses on a woman who feels trapped and hopeless in her marriage. Many of her issue songs appear a bit heavy handed; a soldier gallantly writing a dying letter to her mother in “A Soldier’s Song” and a child asking for forgiveness after accidentally shooting his friend in “Daddy’s Gun,” but Bettens is able to pull them off with her honeyed vocals, gentle guitars, and lyrics that ring true. The only time she really goes over the top is on “Pave the Way,” in which she reminisces about her lonely teen years and stridently pronounces she will pave the way for any lesbians that come behind her. “I’ll wear my rainbow flag with pride,” just sounds a bit too self-important and overt, although for the teenage girls it is no doubt intended for, it is more than likely manna from heaven. Listening to Bettens is often akin to reading someone’s diary. It is raw and emotional, and the listener may feel a bit dirty for peeking in, but at least this diary, unlike most, is beautifully crafted.
Sarah Bettens plays Eddie’s Attic (with brother Gert Bettens of K’s Choice) on Sunday, March 23rd, 8 pm. $15 ($18 door).