Local singer/guitarist David Bethany first made a splash in the Carolina music scene in the early 1980s as a songwriter and frontman with soul-tinged New Wave power trio the Killer Whales. Nearly three decades later, Bethany shows he still has his sense of groove, melody, and wordplay on this independently produced and released solo album. And his voice is as rich as ever.
The 11 original tunes on True Love pay heartfelt tribute to Bethany’s rock ‘n’ roll, classic pop, and R&B roots. There’s even a hint of warm-weather beach/reggae vibes from time to time. Recorded at local engineer Jay Miley’s Charleston Recording Studio, the album initially seems simple and straightforward, but there’s an awful lot of smart songwriting and finesse within the arrangements and performances.
An easy-going Caribbean groove and traditional reggae bassline propels the lead-off title track. Seasoned with extra saxophone from guest player Mark Sterbank, it’s an upbeat and breezy kickoff. Bassist Cambridge Trott and drummer Tim Bonomo lock in splendidly with Bethany’s clean and jangly rhythm guitar playing and Fender tones. Their chemistry resembles the familiar, super-tight rhythm section sound on the Whales’ sole LP Emotional Geography.
Bethany plays some extra Herb Albert-style trumpet on the mid-tempo love song “Can’t Hold On,” a warm, melodic track that harkens back to the mellow gold of classic ’70s AM radio.
The reggae rhythm returns on “I Don’t Want to Talk About Love,” one of the catchiest tunes of the set. Guest organist Bill Nance’s tasteful chords enhance the choruses and bridges of the song. Bethany harmonizes with himself on the chorus, “It’s got to be this way/this is why I say I don’t wanna hear about/I don’t wanna think about/I don’t wanna know about/I don’t wanna talk about love.”
Bethany actually raps through most of the feisty funk/soul workout “I Speak the Lingo.” It’s a bustling boast about being a badass that is so corny it works.
True Love breathes nicely on less rambunctious, acoustic-based ballads like the beautiful “If I Count the Ways” (featuring some exotic accordion work from Andy Jennings) and the rollicking, mandolin-driven “The Wandering Life.”
On the swingin’ heartbreaker “Scotch for Supper, Cigarettes for Dessert,” Bethany plays his jazziest solos and sings his best dual harmonies on lines like, “Love’s not a game for the faint of heart/and you should know this before you even start.” The syncopated “do-the-dance” track “The Lumbago” bounces with a spicy Neville Brothers flavor and low-note sax accents (from Sterbank again). Another lonesome-but-melodic love song, “She Doesn’t Want to Say,” flows with a feathery bossa nova beat. Guest sax player Marc Collins adds some late-night show licks on the rockin’ and not-so-biblical “All God’s Children.”
With its old-school feel and lack of modern production glossiness, True Love might not fit so well in with the contingency of current indie-label pop/rock, but it draws from the kind of classic power-pop and Americana that invigorated old Killer Whales fans. It’s a strong come-back to the scene for a cool veteran. (davidbethanymusic.com)