Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Album Review: Duane Betts - Wild & Precious Life

Duane Betts
Wild & Precious Life
*** out of *****

The debut solo album from Duane Betts, Wild & Precious Life is his throwback to the bygone days of rock, with obvious (and not so obvious) influences along the way.  

Depicted as a tribute album to the Florida sound he remembers in his youth, Betts and his touring band  (Johnny Stachela Guitars, Berry Duane Oakley Bass Guitar, Background Vocals, John Ginty Hammond B-3 Organ, Piano, Tyler Greenwell Drums, Percussion) set up shop in Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks Swamp Raga Studio in Jacksonville, recording everything live in studio and keeping the best takes. 

Even if you missed Betts' name, it would be impossible to miss The Allman Brothers Band's influence on these songs as Betts guitar playing, tone, and songwriting all recall the classic outfit. Betts' strength is his guitar playing, but he is never showy on Wild & Precious Life, wanting the songs to take center stage. It is a noble effort but Betts lives for the live stage and the jam, which is hard to capture on record.

The best efforts have that vital spark, starting with the opener "Evergreen" an upbeat southern rocker with great organ work from Ginty, that works well before an electric trumpet enters the scene from John Reid, pushing the song up to new levels; when it fades out it leaves you wanting more in this vein. The other album focal point is the extended "Saints To Sinners" which contains Betts best lyrics as well as some killer extended guitar takes. 

Those guitar excursions get some extra strength on the back of a few choice guests as Trucks helps out on "Stare at the Sun", which is also excellently pushed along by drums and bass, while Marcus King adds some roadhouse riffs to the bluesy rocker "Cold Dark World". Betts guitar highlights the easy rolling "Colors Fade" while the motoring "Waiting On A Song" pushes upbeat piano work and southern rock in very familiar fashion. 

The group delivers a few solid slices of songs in this style, but things can seem a bit redundant as "Forrest Lane" is fine, just not very exciting, while "Sacred Ground" never reaches the heights it is searching for. However, one of the more interesting shifts arrives on "Under The Bali Moon" which uses a different drum sound, in almost a drum machine/hip-hop fashion, around some very jazz inspired playing that clearly takes the Allmans inspiration and melds it in a new and interesting way.     

The album wraps with a shift in styles as acoustic guitars, weepy pedal steel, and more excellent piano work eases the record to close and showcases a lighter side of Betts and the band. Forging his own route with a clear foot in the sounds that shaped him, Duane Betts' Wild & Precious Life is a solid solo debut.   
Support the artist, buy the album and peep some video below:

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