Seven months after the release of Secret Songs for Secret People the occasional review is still floating in. This one was written by Boston songstress Sarah Blacker for Big Old One's Mixtape Blog, who I recently had the opportunity to share the stage with.
(Link to Online Article)
- Dressed in tawdry jeans and a loose-fitting navy blue hoodie, Eric Bettencourt became a live entity to me on Sunday April 28, at the One Longfellow Square stage, Portland, ME. There he sat, head down stringy hair dangling, skillfully strumming his acoustic guitar to accompany local vocalist, and Portland Phoenix, best vocalist nominee, Anna Lombard.
Previously, to me, he’d been but a Facebook friend; a name I’d heard in passing. We swapped CDs, and he handed me a curious cardboard square package filled with 10-song CD entitled,
‘Secret Songs for Secret People.’
2011 Shadow Shine Productions
First thoughts upon listening: Ray Lamontagne! (Well they are both Mainers, so the influence isn’t impossible) Almost immediately following – “this guy’s voice sounds like a young Rod Stewart!” raspy, timeless, curious and playful, hopefully affected by copious amounts of cigarettes and booze rather than ingenuity. Bettencourt’s phrasing is smooth and straight in comparison to Rod’s one-of- a-kind slip sliding, but the melodies inevitably fit the compositions. ‘Smile,’ the album’s 3rd track to me, is the most Stewart-esque, namely the phrase “Gonna shoot for a smile, but I will take a grin,” and the chorus through to its resolve. As a vocalist, I pain for the sound; could his vocal chords be completely raw and calloused?
The momentum of the first track, ‘Fell Into Place,’ sweeps over me in its openness, closely resembling in my mind the backdrop to a western US drive through mountainous corn-fields and power lines. Lyrically he sets the stage for nostalgia, a lander-lust with a sensitive heart. Relate-able to those familiar with “the one that got away.” I’m immediately drawn to the lush backing harmonies, sparse, warm and round.
Classic and bright, Bettencourt’s acoustic guitar opens the second track, and lyrically he is still yearning. “Will I ever find – some semblance of a quiet mind?” He isn’t afraid of honesty, and the theme of searching continues. This song is particularly driven by the bass which keeps the four beats heavy on the floor but also anticipates the first one, giving the song an propelling shuffle.
“And I am, I am, I am gonna take you from your man.” Track 4, ‘Making Your Bed,‘ brings me to make a Perry Farrell comparison or even one to Shannon Hoon with the urgency in the emotion behind the song. In Track 8, ‘Old Grim,’ he admits, “I don’t want to die.” I believe him.
By track 5, sonically I am yearning for a change of pace sonically from the guitar/bass/drums/slide electric feel, but the album provides the same for this metaphorical piece. Unclear in its motive, Bettencourt is still honest in his attempts, but lyrically strays somewhat from love and nostalgia. Track 7, ‘Secret Songs,’ showcases Bettencourt’s rambling finger style guitar skill, yet still employs the same instrumental arrangement complete with drums heavy on reverb and compression, and wet slide guitar. I’d definitely choose this track as an audition for Bettencourt as an accompanying studio player.
By track 9, I am lost. I am sure the songs may well stand on their own, but as a songwriter, I feel that an album takes you places. It changes, swells, evolves and alters-ego.
While listening to ‘Secret Songs for Secret People,‘ we move with Eric through his emotions, his journey and his particular sound. Definitely a great album to take with you on scenic road trips, my challenge for Eric is to stray stylistically, challenging himself with new harmony, melody, groove, topic even… and I’d be eager to see what’s next.
Bettencourt is an impressive guitar player with a very cool voice. On this album, his songwriting spans love, nostalgia, loss of love, yearning and triumph. On Track 10, the album’s final work employing the returning addition of a string section, ‘Bettencourt croons, “The Road Seldom Traveled,’ … “takes courage and strength.” Amen.
Eric’s website - http://www.eric-bettencourt.com/