Singer/songwriter BettySoo adds sweat-stained confidence to 'Heat Sin Water Skin'

9 p.m. Friday
the Blue Door
2805 N. McKinley

You're quickly reminded of the old "book jacket judgment" cliché when you first encounter BettySoo. The petite Korean-American erases any preconceptions the moment she opens her mouth.

Her voice is big and expressionistic, sauntering across country-folk arrangements with beauty and wisdom that's often breathtaking. She's come a long way in the half-dozen years of her music career, and her latest, "Heat Sin Water Skin," highlights her progress.

She's loved singing since she was a young girl, but never considered singing as a vocation. That began to change when she attended the University of Texas in Austin, where she was exposed to the city's wealth of great singer/songwriters.

She earned a degree in English and saw herself teaching high school, but after a stint of student teaching, she found the petty politics and school administration distasteful, and began to reconsider her options. A counselor asked BettySoo why she wasn't chasing the thing that, according to her friends, she loved best.

"Music's something I had to round out my life, and not something I thought I had any permission to chase after as a career," she said. "It is a hard and competitive business, and who in their right mind would choose it?"

Although BettySoo knew she could sing, she was unsure about writing her own songs. Her 2005 debut, "Let Me Love You," contains the first she'd ever written, and one hears a marked improvement by 2007's "Little Tiny Secrets." 

In 2008, she won the Kerrville Folk Festival's songwriting contest, and continued the upward trajectory with "Heat Sin Water Skin," produced by Gurf Morlix. BettySoo admitted that it was mildly intimidating to send her demos to him, as he's somewhat infamous for turning down work. His influence is felt, on his slick guitar playing throughout, but with arrangements that are much stronger and more varied than found on her previous releases.

In the past, there was an airiness to her vocals, but on recent tracks, she explores an earthy, sweat-stained style that recalls onetime Morlix protégé Lucinda Williams. The songs are accompanied by a raw, soul-baring honesty that's quickly becoming BettySoo's trademark.

"I don't believe anyone when they say, 'I don't have any regrets,' because then you're just not thinking about your life hard enough," she said. "If you never let anyone else see all those dark places, then they just become darker and they feel worse and they feel more shameful. The freeing thing of growing up is you start to realize that, and you start to show people your dark places and they show you theirs. It's not like it erases the darkness of what you've done or felt, but you're not so alone, and your condition isn't so singularly bad." "Chris Parker

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