My mother, she married a ramblin’ man,” sings Duane Betts in “Taking Time,” the sunny opener to his debut, “Sketches Of American Music.” The ramblin’ man of course, is Betts’ father, Dickey Betts, whose guitar gilds such masterpieces as “Blue Sky” (written for a different wife), “Jessica” (for their daughter) and “Ramblin’ Man” (for himself—and the world).
Duane Betts was named for Duane Allman, his dad’s guitar virtuoso partner in the original Allman Brothers Band. Betts may not play with the singular melodic brilliance of Dickey Betts or the fiery intensity of Allman, but he sure makes his guitar sing beautifully throughout these varied Sketches.
Touring as a member of Dickey Betts & Great Southern, and more recently, Dawes, had to have helped make the songs radiate the beams of West Coast country-rock that they do. But Southern inflections color Betts’ tenor singing voice. So in “Taking Time,” on his life and the time he’s spent finding it from coast to coast, the West and the South come together irresistibly.
That grand sound, and Betts’ delightful guitar, make the song worthy of any of Dickey’s albums outside of the Allman Brothers.The same can be said — naturally — of the spirited run through “California Blues,” a Dickey Betts highlight from Great Southern’s 1977 self-titled debut album.
Otherwise, Duane Betts wrote or co-wrote the remaining five songs with a bold, descriptive pen. “Downtown Runaround” depicts an edgy situation, the shiver-and-shaking blues concerning the grip of bad addictions. Betts reportedly experienced a small brush, so the song’s real. A kind of refreshing genuineness permeates everything here.
“When We Get Home” goes for the gut with its pleading Memphis soul, especially as produced by renowned Stax guitarist Steve Cropper. “Think I Am Doing Well” (with ex-Black Crowe Marc Ford adding his tint on guitar) moves with moods and jangles pensively, similar in delivery to something Jason Isbell might come up with — although, there’s that little remarkable guitar feature toward the end of it that calls to mind the Allman Brothers. The flow continuously and repeatedly holds attraction. “Sketches Of American Music” binds a musical legacy to another in the making, by blood and boundless talent.
– Tom Clarke