When I seriously got into music criticism about five years ago, I went about it in a predictably autistic way: I went to Metacritic, pulled up their list of all-time high scores, and started working my down. That was around the time the folk artist Bedouine released her self-titled debut album, and man, did she ever knock it out of the park on her first try. It’s one of the best debut albums released last decade, and it’s one of my favorites. As impressive as it was, the follow-up effort, 2019’s Birds of a Killjoy, is an even better album. Last year’s Waysides, a collection of older material, is pretty damn impressive too.
Bedouine was every bit as impressive in a recent appearance at The Miracle Theatre, the small Barracks Row venue booked by Union Stage, in DC.
Born in Aleppo, Syria, to an Armenian family, Bedouine, born Azniv Korkejian, has a unique story. She spent her early years in Saudi Arabia, where she attended an American school. While she was surrounded by Arabic culture and music, she was also exposed to what was coming out of the West through MTV. When she was 10 years old, her family won the green card lottery, and they relocated to Massachusetts, later to Houston. Bedouine went on to study sound design in Savannah, Georgia, before moving to Los Angeles and establishing her music career.
Bedouine’s music draws on a lot of classic folk and country influences, while drawing on her particular experiences and distinctive voice as a songwriter. “Summer Cold,” as she explained to the audience at The Miracle Theater on April 3, “tries to capture the horrors of war in general,” through the particular lens of what has happened in her native country of Syria. “Louise” is written in Western Armenian, the dialect her speaks. The title, she said, translates to “light, something that so important to keep a hold on.”
When she introduced “Louise,” Bedouine asked if there were any Armenians in the audience, and there was a decent amount of clapping in response. She seemed genuinely pleased by this, and she about there being “a steady rate of 1 Armenian per show, not including me.” She alluded to the region’s complicated and often tragic history, adding “We like to think that we are a patient people.”
Watch Bedouine perform “Louise” live for Twenty Summers on YouTube:
I can’t talk about Bedouine without gushing a bit about her voice. It’s been described as “warm,” but that description doesn’t do it justice. It is warm, but is also full and rich. She performed on acoustic guitar accompanied by Gus Seyffert, who produced her. That’s not a lot of instrumentation, but she doesn’t need it, because her voice fills out the sonic space so well. It’s perfectly suited to the kind of songs she writes and plays, and the effect is exquisite. It’s all just stunningly beautiful, in a way that you want to let it roll over you and envelope you.
Speaking of Gus, she mentioned it was his birthday. Gus then told the audience she says this at every show, and I’m genuinely unsure as to which one of them is joking. I can say they appeared to having a good time with each other.
“These last few years,” she said, “have been kind of quiet.” With touring cancelled and being stuck at home, she felt like she “lost my purpose.” Rather than writing new songs for last year’s Waysides, she revisited old demos and lyrics. One of those songs, “started as a writing practice and got buried over the years.” Inara George gave out a prompt to write something based on a Shakespeare piece, sticking however close to the source material as desired. Bedouine chose “Sonnet 104,” which, reasonably enough, also became the title of the song.
Though it’s her most recent release, the set didn’t focus primarily, or even heavily, on material from Waysides, with the other track from the album being “It Wasn’t Me.” She chose to focus, instead, on songs from the previous two records. “Solitary Daughter” was the first song she recorded with Gus, She began with “Heart Take Flight,” the penultimate track from her debut, and she finished the main set with the second track, “One of These Days.” Other material from that album include its first and last tracks, “Nice and Quiet” and “Skyline,” as well as “Dusty Eyes” during her encore.
Watch the official music video for “It Wasn’t Me” by Bedouine on YouTube:
While not a concept album, there’s definitely a common thread running through Bird Songs. Birds recur, especially in “Bird” and “Bird Gone Wild.” The album also embodies distinct emotional dualities with “When You’re Gone” and “Sunshine, Sometimes.” The set also included “Matters of The Heart.”
For her encore, Bedouine played “Heartache” by the late Lowell George, who is best known as the lead singer and principal songwriter for the band Little Feat. I clapped for Lowell George, and she acknowledged, “We have one Lowell George fan.” You’re damn right you had a Lowell George fan in the audience! He was great.
Bedouine has a really passionate fanbase, which was evident from the large number of people who crowded into the lobby to get albums signed after the show. I was one of them, and it’s not hard to see why she’s gained such a passionate following. She’s incredibly talented, and her music is so beautiful I was nearly in tears during her performance. Finally getting to see Bedouine perform live is a true highlight for me of this post-Covid period, as I got sick and missed her when she last passed through town. I came into this show with a great deal of excitement and anticipation, and it lived up to all of my hopes, and then some. I cannot recommend Bedouine’s music enthusiastically enough, and, if you get the chance to see her, do not let it pass you by.
Here are some photos of Bedouine performing with Gus Seyffert at The Miracle Theatre on April 3, 2022. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.