The award-winning Austin, Texas-based musician covers the Rodney Crowell classic.
“BettySoo may well have the most gorgeous voice in Texas … if not in all contemporary folk — its purity and strength can be downright devastating.” So says Acoustic Guitar. And “she’s a hell of a guitar player.” So says No Depression. And she’s a superlative songwriter. So says pretty much anyone who’s heard her sing her own stuff.
Raised outside of Houston by first-generation Korean immigrant parents, BettySoo’s been an Austinite for long enough to call it home. After a year streaming shows during the pandemic from her place in south Austin, she found herself thinking of the “Before Times” —hanging out with friends at the Continential Club, touring for live audiences — and needing loud music to get her through the trying times.
“There were a few songs I played on repeat as the calendar flipped from 2020 to 2021, and I was still isolated in my home alone,” she says. “One was Richard and Linda Thompson’s ‘I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight,’ and ‘Ain’t Living Long Like This’ was also at the top of the playlist. I mean, I blasted them. My stereo shook my little flimsy living room. I had to believe there was going to be an After Times to this pandemic, and songs like these helped me hold onto hope.”
As soon as her band was fully vaccinated, she corralled them into Congress House Studio to cover both tunes. We’re pleased to be premiering “Ain’t Living Long Like This” here.
“It’s hard to feel satisfied you’ve done justice to such iconic Americana classics, especially when you haven’t been in the same room to rehearse with your band in over a year!” BettySoo says. “Still, I couldn’t resist the urge, and with Mark Hallman (Carole King, Ani DiFranco) producing, I was in safe hands. Plus, I knew my fans would love cranking these up and celebrating all the live music that’s to come.”
C&I talked with BettySoo about her cover of the Crowell classic.
Cowboys & Indians: What about “Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This” specifically appeals?
BettySoo: I have always loved this song and Rodney Crowell’s writing. While the lyrics of this song don’t exactly describe my life (haha), they grew to mean a lot more after reading his memoir some years back. His telling of his story is so powerful, and while the specifics of his early life are obviously unique to his own life, the big picture of generational abuse and dysfunction are themes I relate to a great deal. After reading Chinaberry Sidewalks, the song gained more resonance because I could hear the echoes between his childhood and the lyrics.
C&I: Any memories of first hearing the song and/or discovering Rodney Crowell?
BettySoo: I can’t remember when I first heard Rodney Crowell's songs as Rodney Crowell's songs. I think I was in late high school or early college when I started paying a lot more attention to who was writing the songs I loved. I remember discovering Gretchen Peters the same way - through the hits they wrote that I felt personally connected to. It's hard to say though - growing up in Texas, there is a lot of pride in the Texas songwriting scene, and I suspect the country stations I grew up listening to played more Texas-origin music that spanned decades than stations in other parts of the country. All that said, there are songs like "Ashes By Now" and "Shame on the Moon" that I can't remember ever not existing.
C&I: Any favorite part in the lyrics? In the music? Any little fun guitar parts she throws in?
BettySoo: The lyrics are so deceptively simple. They feel like straight up storytelling, but they are crafted so tightly and casually - a difficult thing to pull off. His writing is so consistently smart and approachable. It's what I dream of being able to achieve someday. It's so fun to plug in an acoustic guitar and run it through an amp - it's a different texture than any other setup. I was chugging on the rhythm guitar, but it felt unbelievably good to be in the studio cutting the song live with my band -- we were all freshly fully vaccinated and past our waiting periods, and my heart was pounding as we played together for the first time in forever. I didn't even know if we'd be able to get in the pocket together, but I feel pretty happy with the result, raw and real and imperfect as it is! Everyone played great: Jon Sanchez on guitar, Brian Mendes on drums, and Bonnie Whitmore on bass - I know how lucky I am to make music with these pros.
C&I: What do you think of the Emmylou Harris cover of it?
BettySoo: Emmylou Harris is a goddess. I try not to think about her cover, or I risk feeling totally inadequate! Seriously, though, I hope we manage to bring something to the song. I love so many covers of this song — it’s rare to have a song done in such similar ways by different artists and still to be able to appreciate something from each version. That’s a testament both to the writing and the performances.
C&I: And now that you’ve done your own cover?
BettySoo: This was a powerful experience as a songwriter because it’s easy for me, especially as a depressive person, to lose sight of my work having significance or meaning in the world. Realizing how much this and other songs were carrying me through gave me a renewed perspective on my place in the world!
Nobody’s Happy Hour: Catch BettySoo’s show August 10, with Bill Kirchen, Kevin Russell, Charlie Faye, Diana Burgess, Jaimee Harris, and Bonnie Whitmore. After that, she’ll be taking a little break to work on the 2022 edition of her WORK + PLAY / Every Day planner and some other projects. Her Nobody’s Happy Hour will resume online soon and in-person at Captain Quackenbush's Coffeehouse in Austin once infection numbers are under control again.