It only takes two songs but Betten totally nails it, offering up textured and nuanced pseudo-ballads full of strut and soul. “Learning It as I Go” – with its jangly guitars, bouncy pop bass and bar-room piano – owes a lot to pre-Sgt. Pepper Beatles and Wilco circa Being There, though Betten’s self-assured delivery even suggests shades of early Bowie. The B side, “Small Doses,” is equally addictive, slightly boozy and totally informed in Betten’s murmured, borderline-seductive vocals, not to mention, again, the perfectly complementary guitar and piano. This man has shown through his curating and management skills that he knows good pop when he hears it; turns out that sensibility carries over to crafting good pop, too.
Dan Knishkowy, he of NY alt-country band Adeline Hotel, does a great job with sometimes-twangy, always-emotive guitars on the single but the star, far and away, is Betten, a former avant-folkist – see Western Pennsylvania – who, in his more direct incantation now, alternately calls to mind, again, Bowie and, in the more somber sing-song of “Small Doses,” The National’s Matt Berninger. Impressive stuff – easily stands among the best pop released in Pittsburgh this year.
Want to track down the single? Head to James Street, where Betten will be joined Saturday by Nathan Zoob (Wreck Loose), Andre Costello (Cool Minors), Dan Styslinger (delicious pastries), Justin Nelson (Searights) and Dhruva Krishna (Manic Soul). Tickets are $10 and include a free copy of the vinyl single.