Want to have a career in the music business? I don’t recommend you try the Bekah Kelso way.
Born in San Antonio, she went to school in Austin, quit before earning degrees in communication and commercial music management (“Screw the degree! Get the experience!” she said), jumped in her Honda Civic and lived on the road with GBmojo for two years (her duo with Ginger Doss), worked on solo material, then moved to Seattle with her beau, found out she was pregnant two weeks later, and ran right back home to find family support and continue recording through the pregnancy.
“It was the most expensive vacation ever,” she said minutes after giving me a copy of the excellent Within the Shifting Shade, her brand-new album she’ll be presenting August 16 at 502. A lover of hyphens, she called her previous EP Departures “folk-hop gypsy-rock,” and her new one “indie-pop soul-folk.” She also released the very decent—and more conventionally singer-songwriter-oriented—Mud Blossom in 2009. But Within the Shifting Shade, alt-pop based on solid songs minus the usual image control, is her very best. In other words: Kelso doesn’t give a damn, and if she wants to call a song “Bullshit,” as she did on Within, she will.
“Want more hyphens?” she asks. “‘Not-story-telling folk,’ another description I love. My music has a very first-person point of view, I don’t tell stories like, ‘the man who went up to the mountain and…’ Or I should say: I haven’t done that yet. In the future, who knows?”
The gorgeously arranged album was produced by Damián Rodríguez, another one on a growing list of top-notch local producers. He’s responsible for turning Kelso’s raw, at times admittedly clumsy talent, into a polished work of art.
“I’m very comfortable working with him,” Kelso said, and then begins to laugh even before saying the next sentence. “I’m a self-taught guitar player, I don’t really know what I’m doing! I just write songs and use the guitar as a tool to write them.”
She insists on playing her own acoustic guitar, even in a live setting. For the 502 on Friday, she’ll be backed by Rodríguez on electric guitar, Rocky Hernández on keyboards, brother Ryan Kelso on drums, Kenny Valentine on bass and Chris “Puck” Williams on percussion. “Considering how long I’ve been playing guitar, I should be much better. I just put my fingers on the frets until it sounds cool. But I’ll get there.”
Kaius, her son (Latin for “rejoice”) was born on November 3, but she actually gave birth to two babies practically at once: Within the Shifting Shade is the product of a restless personality that absorbs colors and sounds like a creative sponge.
“I’m like a chameleon or a mockingbird,” she said. “The type of person who watches a movie about kung-fu and wants to learn everything there is to know about kung-fu. I’m the same with music.”
The album is strong enough to be the beginning of her best musical run yet, and the product of the year when she got back to her deepest artistic roots after “years on the road, hustling for tip jar money.”
Kelso believes, “It doesn’t matter what the genre or platform is, whether it’s music, or film or any other discipline ... people can tell when something’s insincere and when it’s real.”
Is Bekah Kelso for real? Check her music at bekahkelso.com and go to 502 on Friday and judge for yourself.
Bekah Kelso CD release party feat. Ray Prim, Laura Marie
9pm Fri, Aug 16
502 Embassy Oaks