K's Choice Eyes 'Happy' Return To U.S.

It has been four years since folk-pop act K's Choice last released an album in the U.S., yet the band has stayed active in Europe and in its Belgian homeland. They've kept busy by embarking on often s

It has been four years since folk-pop act K's Choice last released an album in the U.S., yet the band has stayed active in Europe and in its Belgian homeland. They've kept busy by embarking on often sold-out European tours, issuing various live albums, and working on vocal collaborations with such Dutch artists as Camden and Raymond Van het Groenewoud.

Most importantly, in 2000, the band recorded its fourth studio album "Almost Happy" -- released the same year in Europe via Double T Music. Sony Music International and Red Ink have announced a Stateside release of "Almost Happy" for May 14 -- a date shortly preceding the band's May 28 arrival as an opening act for the Indigo Girls' North American tour.

Specific to the disc's stateside release, "Almost Happy" will contain a 15-track bonus live disc of material from the European "K's Choice Live" album (Double T Music).

Singer/guitarist Sarah Bettens -- who currently resides in California -- realizes U.S. audiences may remember K's Choice primarily for its 1996 haunting anthem "Not an Addict" or from its performances on the Lilith Fair tour. However, Bettens views these upcoming dates as a welcome challenge to reacquaint Americans with its sound.

"There's something nice about [being the opening act]; if it was a struggle everywhere, it wouldn't be so nice," she says while in France during a recent tour. "We can play for 2,000 people in Holland, and then go to another country and play where we're not so big and completely start over again. Going back to the States [is] a nice transition because you're reminded that what you do is often a challenge. I've always loved being the supporting act; it changes things up a bit. If we were playing stadiums every night we'd also be happy, but then what would be our goal after that?"

While past K's Choice efforts have balanced agitated, post-grunge rock with folk, jazz, and blues rhythms, "Almost Happy" eschews the distorted guitar and volume almost completely -- opting for a calmer, more gentle listening experience.

The album begins with a brief recording of a 5-year-old Bettens, singing a Belgian folk song a capella -- this establishes the delicate, simple, and nostalgic tone the disc follows. While lyrically pensive, the following "Another Year" is filled with layers of summery and jangling guitars, acoustic brush strokes, and Betten's engaging smoky voice (often strongly reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan), and the track shows the ability of K's Choice to create a wistful mood not overburdened with despair.

The title track emerges from hushed acoustic strumming, and it momentarily taps into crunch-and-crashing drums before Bettens' sleepy delivery guides the wiry, smoldering guitars and the pitter-pattering drums down to a subdued crescendo.

The album's most poignant and stunning moments, however, rest in the three, consecutive songs occupying the disc's middle section: the stark yet rich and stirring ballad "Live for Real," the breezy, Nashville-flavored "Somewhere," and the glowing, basement-jazz club number "Home."

Bettens attributes the album's pensive qualities to the life reflections she made at the time. "I was definitely going through a phase that I felt like I'd missed out on a part of my youth," she says. "I was 20 when I dropped out of college, and I realized that starting a real responsible career at that age was kind of soon. I had a time in my late 20s when I felt like, 'Did I miss out on that quality college time?' and I feel like I missed that time when everything was so open. I was definitely getting nostalgic about the past."

Excerpted from the May 11, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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