Beth Wawerna's involvement with rock music started a couple minutes after she was born, when her 14-year-old brother stubbornly insisted she be named for the eponymous 1976 KISS power ballad, "Beth." Her parents consented – thus unwittingly sealing their daughter's fate.
Young Beth spent her formative years in Atlanta, GA, sifting through her brother's abandoned record collection. She became taken with artists like Elvis Costello and The Replacements, who fit in nicely with the Southern indie-rock scene she'd already been exposed to – bands like R.E.M., Pylon, and one of her favorites, the oft-overlooked titans of violently deconstructed garage rock, Cabbagetown's Rock*A*Teens.
When it was time to leave the South, Beth (like so many of her generation) got a job, moved to Brooklyn, got laid off, sat around, went to bars and stayed up late with her musician friends – drinking Budweiser and singing Gram Parsons songs. She also wrote songs of her own – songs that recalled the classic and college rock she'd grown up with, as well as crooners like Brenda Lee, the swagger of old New York girl groups and and the insight, wit and sarcasm of late 70s/early 80s gems like Squeeze and Rockpile.
But central to all of these songs was her own sensibility – both brainy and tough, thoughtful and tossed-off, vicious and vulnerable. For so long, Beth had been the consummate green-room insider and dubious creative outsider – comfortable hanging out backstage, but terrified of being on it. She wrote for years before sharing so much as a note.
The first album from her band Bird of Youth collects these songs. Produced by Will Sheff of Okkervil River and engineered by Phil Palazzolo (The New Pornographers, Neko Case, Radio 4), its cast of players also includes members of Nada Surf, the Wrens, the Mendoza Line, Okkervil River, Royal American and The National. The result is like a Pretenders album ghostwritten by Dorothy Parker – clever songs that turn indie-rock braininess back on itself with a casual frivolity. Far from being just another girl coo-ing breathy pleasantries into the microphone, Beth and her band have made a rock record. It's big. It's ballsy. It's sweet. And it's smart.
Peter Criss would be proud.