three a.m. and the stars were out

Artist: Jeff Betten
Medium: sound
Produced and engineered by J. Vega at The Wilderness Recording Studio in Zelienople, Pennsylvania

“Calling Cards”
Written by Neko Case
Performed by Jeff Betten, with additional banjo and lead guitar by Joseph Ripple

“After the Rain”
Written and performed by Jeremy Colbert

“Another Martyr for the Blind”
Written by Joseph Ripple
Performed by Chet Vincent
Guitar by Joseph Ripple

“Improvisation #1”
Written and performed by Erika Laing

“Wildwood Flower”
Performed by David Manchester and Jessie Hoffmann

Written and performed by Joseph Ripple

“The Dying Whale & The Crying Bird”
Written and performed by Erika Laing

“Another Martyr for the Blind (Reprise)”
Written by Joseph Ripple
Performed by Molly Alphabet and Jessie Hoffmann
Guitar by Joseph Ripple

“Plato’s Cave”
Written and performed by Jeremy Colbert

“Auld Lang Syne”
Performed by Jeff Betten

“Nothing but Crickets” is a natural soundscape composed of a field recording by Karen Ramirez

Photograph by Chris Glass

Three A.M. and the Stars Were Out

Ron Rash

When the phone rings way too late
for good news, just another
farmer wanting me to lose
half a night's sleep and drive some
backcountry wash-out for miles,
fix what he's botched, on such nights
I'm like an old, drowsy god
tired of answering prayers,
so let it ring a while, hope
they might hang up, though of course
they don't, don't because they know
the younger vets shuck off these
dark expeditions to me,
thinking it's my job, not theirs,
because I've done it so long
I'm used to such nights, because
old as I am I'll still do
what they refuse to, and soon
I'm driving out of Marshall
headed north, most often toward
Shelton Laurel, toward some barn
where a calf that's been bad-bred
to save stud fees is trying
to be born, or a cow laid
out in a barn stall, dying
of milk fever, easily cured
if a man hadn't wagered
against his own dismal luck,
waited too late, hoping to
save my fee for a salt lick,
roll of barbed wire, and it's not
all his own fault, poor too long
turns the smartest man to stupid,
makes him see nothing beyond
a short term gain, which is why
I know more likely than not
I'll be arriving too late,
what's to be done best done with
rifle or shotgun, so make
driving the good part, turn off
my radio, let the dark
close around until I know
a kind of loneliness that
doesn't feel sad as I pass
the homes of folks I don't know,
may never know, but wonder
what they are dreaming, what life
they wake to — thinking such things,
or sometimes just watching for
what stays unseen except on
country roads after midnight,
the copperheads soaking up
what heat the blacktop still holds,
foxes and bobcats, one time
in the forties a panther,
yellow eyes bright as truck beams,
black-tipped tail swishing before
leaping away through the trees,
back into its extinction,
all this thinking and watching
keeping my mind off what waits
on up the road, worst of all
the calves I have to pull one
piece at a time, birthing death.
Though sometimes it all works out.
I turn a calf's head and then
like a safe's combination
the womb unlocks, calf slides free,
or this night when stubborn life
got back on its feet, round eyes
clear and hungry, my IV
stuck in its neck, and I take
my time packing up, ask for
a second cup of coffee,
so I can linger awhile
in the barn mouth watching stars
awake in their wide pasture.

Artist Statement
DEcember 18, 2017

What do we mean by the term recording artist? Why do we continue to use the word album in modern times when it was originally coined, one hundred years prior, to describe bound collections of 78 rpm gramophone records that were called so because they literally resembled photo albums?

I was born in 1985 and came of age with compact discs, so maybe that’s why I’m enamored with them - although not for the same reasons which other people seem to be. Improvements in song-skipping ability didn’t really impress me. CDs, in my mind, actually meant the obliteration of the Side A/Side B dichotomy inherent with LPs. I liked that it made it possible to go through up to 80 minutes of music completely uninterrupted. Now, making my own art, I want to further explore the possibilities of having those oceans of audio in which to play.

This work contains ten songs throughout approximately sixty-two minutes of recording, each intended as a vignette within the larger context. This is not a simulacrum of a band’s live performance - song after song after song for their own sake, marching along in order. There are no “tracks” to speak of. Rather, it’s my hope that these various sounds can be similarly interpreted in the way that one might understand objects in a painting to be part of the foreground, middle-ground, or background. Clarity simply dictates that I not subject you to the entirety of it simultaneously.

I grew up in a heavily-wooded area west of Pittsburgh, one which I’m told wasn’t even wired for electricity until after World War II. Growing up, we had a rural-route mailing address and a barn full of horses down the hill; we fed them carrots after dinner. I learned to enjoy the sound of the outdoors and associate the quiet of nighttime with a certain type of peaceful alienation. In that sense, this is a regionalist work in the mold of Andrew Wyeth. The theme of memory is a constant throughout. In an impending era of artificial intelligence, I want to explore the essential humanity still present in the world. I’m interested in our mistakes, our shortcomings, and our creative workarounds for them as a species.

This work is largely a conceptual refinement of my 2012 effort, Born Again Blues, which was also written and recorded with the help of Joseph Ripple. His creative voice has been an invaluable element of both projects. I would also like to thank Jeremy Colbert, David Manchester, Chet Vincent, Molly Alphabet, Erika Laing, and Jessie Hoffmann for their selfless contributions. Lastly, immense credit must be given to J. Vega, who was given a difficult task in the form of my numerous technological and aesthetic requests that often went against conventional recording studio protocols. But sometimes you’ve got to bend the rules of convention in order to be true to yourself and your art.