Location: California/Texas, United States
Genre melding psychedelic western rocker Betty Benedeadly returns with her latest soundtrack to a journey through the desert. This time though she enlists Braden Guess of her other project Sheverb.
As always with Betty’s work, the album focuses on a specific theme that is based around a lived experience that she has recently undergone. This time it focuses on The Institute of Mentalphysics aka the Joshua Tree Retreat Center. The retreat center was established in Joshua Tree (then Yucca Valley), California, in 1941 by spiritualist Edwin John Dingle and teaches a universalist spiritual development technique based on vegetarian diet, pranayama and development of extrasensory perception. Its all explained in the video below:
Musically the album follows the same path as previous releases, spanning everything from psychedelic rock, surf rock and western soundtrack. However, this time around there’s a more complex and diverse overall sound thanks to the inclusion of a number of new instruments and some more varied influences. There’s even more of that spiritual, somewhat mystical undertone present in the music, the one that evokes joyous memories of time spent in the desert. The two artists manage to perfectly capture the sense of majesty, emptiness, and subtle beauty that the desert offers those who are wise enough to journey there and immerse themselves in the landscape and all that it has to offer.
As always you’ll find unreasonably catchy guitar work (both electric and acoustic), paired with classic folk instruments such as banjo and mandolin. However, things are elevated by the inclusion of a number of other captivating instruments including jaw harp, wooden frog, dobro, conga and bones. The inclusion of synthesizer in the mix is a nice added touch too and brings a whole new sound to the music. I have to give props to the album’s guest musicians too, because without the lap steel (one of the most underrated instruments in human history), ghuzeng and upright bass, this release just wouldn’t be as epic as it is.
Rhythmically it’s an album that you’ll find yourself tapping your foot, bobbing your head and humming along to without even realising that you’re doing so. The music just speaks to you on a level that doesn’t even require you to fully pay attention to it. However, I highly recommend that you do, or you will miss the complexity on display and the subtle nuances hidden throughout.
There’s something a little bit different about the underlying essence of this album vs Betty’s previous releases. I can’t quite put my finger on what that is. Personally, I get more of a feeling of peace and solace from this album than I did on previous releases. There’s a calmness to the energy that emanates from the music, I don’t know if “spiritual” or “mystical” is the right way to describe its feeling, but its somewhere in that general area. It just feels less like an adventure into the unknown, as the previous albums did with their hint of excitement and danger. This time I feel completely at ease, like there isn’t a care in the world and all that matters is the serenity of the desert and the peace that it provides to those that are willing to embrace it. I guess I could oversimplify and phrase it as being ‘less about desperados and more about shaman’.
As far as favourite tracks go, I would have to say that Fading Painted Sky is my top pick. Its just such a stunning track and while being a little more simplistic and stripped back than others on the album I feel as if it works in its favour. Following closely behind is Dust Storm Dance, which is one of the more energetic and busy tracks on the album, with a great rhythm to it that will get stuck in your head. Right alongside that is Mojave Mystic, which feels like Hotel California meets Diarabi, a union that I can’t help but get behind. Lastly, Primordial Rhythms needs some praise, for being the most energetic and exciting tracks on the album, its placement was genius too, leading right into the ambient, ritualistic closer Invocation of the Ancient Desert.
Overall, I really enjoyed the album and appreciated what Braden Guess brought to the mix. While this was a somewhat different output from previous albums, I feel like it makes complete sense as part of Betty’s catalogue. It makes even more sense when looked at in the context of its inspiration, which was fully captured in audio form. If you’re a fan of moving, spiritually charged, desert worshipping music then do not miss this.
Listen to and order the album: