One of the major crimes in the music industry is that some artists, through lack of promotion, distribution or any of the other advantages offered only to those with major-label affiliations, never reach the mass audiences they deserve. Betty Elders is one such talent, as evidenced by her stunning new album, Peaceful Existence.
In her native Austin, Elders is revered as something of a hometown heroine; her list of accolades is as long as her stack of rave reviews is thick. In fact, the awards speak for themselves, Best Female Songwriter four out of the past five years Best Female Vocalist -the same story. Make that five for five when it comes to her Song of the Year honors. And amazingly enough, that list only barely scratches the surface. On the other hand, reading her resume tells only half the story.
Peaceful Existence tells the rest. Rarely has an album title done such justice to its contents. Taking a musical stance that's similar in style to Roseanne Cash, Nanci Griffith, Iris Dement and Lucinda Williams. Elders' gentle folk/country sound is built around bare-bones acoustic arrangements and a delicate delivery that's both engaging and affecting. Easily accessible from start to finish, the album winds its way through a series of mellow, melodious ballads, each a celebration of the spirit, an eloquent expression of emotion. In fact, the album boasts such consistent quality that it's difficult to single out one song as the best of the bunch.
However, Long Bed from Kenya certainly stands as a contender thanks to it's poetic lyrics and a melody that's absolutely indelible, even on the first listening. Kudos should also go to Cowboy, The Quiet, Falling Rain, All You Want, Winter's Coming, and Crack in the Mirror (a tale of torment that brings to mind Suzanne Vega's Luka). Hell, any song on this superb set qualifies for standout status.
The point is that this is one collection that’s well worth searching for. Since you're probably not going to find it your local record store, do yourself a favor by contacting Whistling Pig Records, P.O.Box 43477. Austin. TX. 78745-0477. You’ll thank me for it later.
-- Lee "Train" Zimmerman
Four stars aren't enough. Feeling the rapture of "Peaceful Existence" is tantamount to discovering the Holy Grail.
What makes this semi-acoustic, folk-country masterpiece so extraordinary is that it's self-written, self-produced and self-released by an extremely modest artist from Austin, whose only national credit is co-writing one song on Lucinda Williams' soul-shaking "Sweet Old World."
Elders' vocals reflect such hurt and radiate such healing that they-along with a handful of empathetic musicians-enhance the quiet strength of her 11 remarkable originals.
From the tranquility of "Falling Rain," to the estrangement of "Winter's Coming," to the astonishing, wistful beauty of "Long Bed From Kenya," Elders warm intensity glows like a guiding light.
While Elders refrains from profanity, this recording is no Disney afternoon. "Crack in the Mirror" extends beyond the tale of a girl who was molested throughout her childhood to condemn those whose silence made them accessories, as well as a self-centered society that expects its victims to recover within an imposed time limit.
Elders sings, speaks and whispers "The Ballad of Marley Rose Peyton" in the first person. Not even the sanctuary of madness can protect peyton from recalling the sudden horror that triggered her flight from reality.
"Peaceful Existence" is as intelligent as it is spiritual, and matches the standard of excellence associated with the likes of Bob Dylan, John Prine, Nanci Griffith, Warren Zevon and Lucinda Williams.
Recordings are rated on a scale of 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent) stars.
A chain of personally unhappy events, mainly concerned with the passing of members of her family, caused Elders to put her performing career on hold for over twelve months, commencing mid 1991. From her subsequent struggles with body, mind and soul, Elders has fashioned the eleven-compositions featured here:
The fulcrum of Elder's Peaceful Existence lies in tracks four and five. The Quiet, as the title suggests, represents that period which follows the storm. Once a sense of tranquillity has settled like a veil upon the survivor the Falling Rain follows naturally. Never before, have the elemental images of wind and rain, running rivers and faraway trains, been used to such achingly stunning effect.
Simplicity encounters towering emotion. Falling Rain represents rebirth, a second baptism, the cataclysmic catharsis. On the final line, as Elders reaches for that top note, you can sense her combating those devils all over again. Elders explores new love in Edge Of The Universe while appreciating that this significant human emotion is but a microcosm when compared to all of creation. Realism subjectively permeates this album. While life is given a bleak perspective in the opening cuts, there's an element of optimism contained in the song which succeed Falling Rain. They’re the reflection, of a survivor, rather than the venomous outpouring of a victim.
For highs, lows and those innumerable levels between, repeated prescription of this album is one of the finest medications you--could indulge in currently.
"It's from Texas that Betty Elders also comes, and her name, by coincidence, appears on the inside of the cover of Landing 92. Wife of the noted violinist, Gene Elders, and assiduously present in the recording studios of Texas, Betty made her ‘debut' in 1981, but for an infinity of reasons and in spite of the many honors that have come to her in these years, her recording history is rather slim. In fact, Peaceful Existence (Whistling Pig. SP 1217), is only her third album, but it could make of her one of the most luminous stars in the musical firmament of the United States.
"Besides being a sensitive and refined songwriter (her songs have appeared on the records of singers like Kathy Matthea and Lucinda Williams), Elders is also a magnificent singer who knows very well how to communicate different moods through her interpretations; her pliant and penetrating voice sometimes recalls that of Rickie Lee Jones, to whom Betty could plainly be compared, if it were not that in her style the folk component has the upper hand over that jazz. Light strokes of blues and country give finishing touches to the key for understanding the magical songs of Peaceful Existence and are reflected in the accompaniment, which, although simple, succeeds in generating a solid and profound atmosphere, especially in some of the slow ballads, such al The Quiet Cowboy, Long Bed From Kenya and the Ballad of Marley Rose, which seem almost to spring from the Appalachian tradition.
"Her husband Gene and guitarist Mitch Watkins are the names most often recurrent among those who accompany Betty; she herself acids a percussive touch with her acoustical guitar. A true masterpiece, like a flame that illuminates the night, Peaceful Existence is the most successful product of a female singer/composer of recent times; it is indispensable to have, so don't hesitate; ask for it from Whistling Pig, P.O. Box 43477, Austin, Texas 75745-0477."
Translated from “News of Recording”, LA VOICE (The Voice), Alessandria, Italy.
Betty Elders rules Austin, 'Texas. She's won the Best Female Songwriter and Song of the Year Awards in the Music City Texas "Insider's Poll" three consecutive years. She also was awarded Best Female Acoustic Singer in 1992.
Outside the Lone Star state Elders is best known for co-writing "He Never Got Enough Love" with fellow Austin-based singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams (Sweet Old World, 1992). Elders and Williams share a common blues/folk/country/ rock tradition. They also share an ability to create first rate songs and sing the heck out of them. Williams fans would certainly appreciate Elders' music, as Williams herself considers Elders one of her favorite musicians. Elders has a prodigious songwriting talent. She won 1989 Billboard Magazine's National Songwriting Competition with "Bed of Roses," later recorded by Kathy Mattea. Everyone of the ten new songs on this disc is a gem. Elders’ provides intimate insight into the ways we live. Her lyrics reveal things about ourselves to ourselves which we might not have previously realized. She sings with passion and conviction, but also with sweetness and spirituality. These are songs of redemption even when the characters are losers, like the cowboy who can't remember the words to "Home on the Range," and the girl who loves him unrequitedly. The sparse accompaniment of acoustic guitars and a violin back the lyrics of Peaceful Existence. This allows the songs a peaceful dignity and evokes a sense of personal honesty. On songs such as the sublime The Quiet, it seems as if nothing separates the listener from the performer's soul. Peaceful Existence is a truly beautiful and wondrous creation.
Cassette cat.# < becs-101 > $9.99 /// CD cat.# < becd-101> $14.99