Bethel Steele is a touring singer-songwriter based out of Boston, MA, whose music is something of an amalgam of Lori McKenna, Ani DiFranco and Neil Young. With a smoky alto and a playing style that ranges from driving rhythm guitar to delicate finger-picking, Bethel's songs find the intrinsic beauty in whiskey-soaked one night stands, the stories of thrill-seekers and the unrelenting passage of time.
Bethel's June 2012 release, entitled 'Of Love and Whiskey' ('OLAW'), was produced by Neale Eckstein, of Fox Run Studio/Fox Run House Concerts and Jagoda, NYC percussionist of Swamp Cabbage. The new record as a whole, is a journey, beginning with BASE, a suspenseful, open-ended song about a thrill-seeking adventurer with Greg Greenway on piano, and closing with the uplifting gospel inspired Blue Skies. Hailed as "deep and inspired" by Italian reviewer Remo Ricaldone (www.bcmai.it), 'OLAW' reached the #17 position on the Folk-DJ Top Albums in June and the #16 position in the Roots Music Report's Top Folk Albums in July. The record has been included on a number of 2012 'Best-of' lists including those by DJ's Joltin Joe of WMSC 90.3FM, Montclair, NJ and Jim Canales of WWSP 90FM out of Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
The record dives into Steele’s own struggle with the duality of gender in Beautiful Boy. Inspired by the realization that many people do not subscribe to society’s gender roles, Bethel wrote the song as a self addressed love letter: “You’ve opened up a can of worms boy, and I don’t want to be ashamed. But now you’ve shown your pretty face and I won’t be the same.” The song’s message of acceptance and oneness resonates with a wide audience of listeners, especially those who feel that they don’t quite fit in.
The jazz influenced Sunrise, speaks to the joys of newfound love: “Let’s live in this moment and take love as it comes, for weeks or a lifetime, or until the sun rises.” The song articulates the special feeling that is experienced at the beginning of a relationship and the desire to hold on to that for as long as possible. Of Love & Whiskey’s other love songs are lightly instrumented, creating an intimate duet between guitar and strings on Seasons and guitar and organ on Gentle Babe.
The Farm, a song that considers the confluence of the past and present, tells of an old farmhouse and the family that lives there. The preceding song, With Age, is a sympathetic first person narrative from the perspective of someone who has experienced the aging process and has gathered wisdom over a lifetime of adversity. The final song on the record, and perhaps the one song that has the broadest appeal is Blue Skies. This hopeful song calls out, “Goodbye to the doubt that once filled my mind for blue skies, there’s hope for another day… with blue skies,” ending the adventure which is Of Love & Whiskey on a high note.
Steele has been writing music and playing guitar since the age of 14, but wasn’t until a move to a small town outside of Poughkeepsie, New York at age 21, that Bethel began to perform with regularity. At a small dive bar, you’d find Bethel playing covers of songs by Ani DiFranco, the Indigo Girls, Josh Ritter and Susan Werner alongside Bethel’s own originals to a crowd that grew each month. After a few months of playing in the area, Bethel was given an ultimatum – either make something to sell, or don’t play. The bar didn’t pay a fee, and the only money Bethel saw from those nights at the bar was cash from a tip jar, so a good friend (the bartender) jokingly demanded that the next month, Bethel had to come with a CD. That did indeed prompt Bethel to record an eight-song EP, ‘Beautiful Woman.’ The 10 copies that were thrown together over a one-day living room recording stint over Thanksgiving in 2006 sold out at Bethel’s next performance.
Steele released a full-length self-produced studio album in 2009 entitled ‘Come Home,’ after moving to Boston and having left a full-time job (the reason for the move to Boston in the first place). 'Come Home' is the result of many musicians bringing in their own sound and adding it to the soulful lyrics and driving rhythmic guitar that has become a trademark of Bethel's music. The album has tastes of a country upbringing, dashes of pop and rock, but is nailed in the folk genre. Bethel was described as a "sultry-voiced young folk performer a far cut above" (Francis DiMenno, The Noise Boston) and regarding the record itself, Darius Ripps of 'Oliver di Place' music blog heralded 'Come Home' in the following words: "The singer-songwriter movement started in the early 1970s. By now, it can be called a tradition, and with Bethel Steele, it is in good hands."