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Fine Old World Album Review - mainefolkmusic.com

CD Review by Bob McKillop

When you listen to this CD, you will mostly remember Eric Bettencourt 's vocals.  There is something unique and delightful about the slightly hoarse timbre, the creative dynamics, the subtle, but distinctive, smart-ass smirk in his delivery.

No, on second thought, you will probably be struck by Eric's guitar work.  Buttery acoustic tone, fine finger style work, clear, clean electric riffs behind the scenes, and inspired electric and acoustic lead work in the breaks.

Or will it be the songwriting?  Or maybe the production and arrangement?

OK, I give up.  I can't decide what's best about this record.  It's all good; you'll just have to decide for yourself.

The title track is an enigmatic trilogy, with a section at the beginning, one in the middle, and one at end of the album.  The production gets increasingly full from one movement of this song to the next.  This tune is a collection of vignettes from many people's lives.  We witness times of decision and change and counter-point, a sampling of the good, the bad, and the ugly in our existence.  It is ultimately a song of acceptance of the world for what it is, and a celebration of our existence, for it's own sake.

"Delaney" sounds like Bare Naked Ladies on vacation in the Caribbean.  It opens in a breezy Latin beat, with acoustic strumming and electric riffs in the background.  There is an interesting backbeat on the lyrical meter.  The chorus runs into a different rock/folk rhythm, then a silky lead break on slightly distorted electric guitar melts back into the Latin beat of the third verse.  The lyrics are a celebration of a lovely woman with a lovely spirit. She doesn't understand how the world loves her.  The theme is not deep, but this is a fun and breezy track.

Eric Bettencourt - picture on MaineFolkMusic.comA low, harmonic pedal tone draws us into "Burning up", and yields to a great strummed riff that defines a catchy melody.  As in many of Eric's songs, the rhythm and beat of the track is constantly changing, evoking a variety of moods and themes.  There is a hymnal, choral quality in the bridge, which then swings into another of Eric's great little lead breaks.  The lyrics conjure up a story of a crash, a burn, and a rising from the ashes, a second chance, and a passionate offer of help.

I think "The Plan" is a great song.  It's groove is sort of a cross between the 1950's era hit, "Young Love" and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" – sounds a little scary, but it works.  The main components are a beefy acoustic guitar strum, a subtle base line, and a nicely reverberated snare drum.  The lifting register in the chorus is a nice contrast to the flat melody in the verses.  Eric's distinctive vocals bleat out a lament about being used and abused in a relationship. 

"If I learned it once I learned it twice

You can't stare down a block of ice

In the puddle floats a painful memory;

I'm holding on and counting sheep

Forgetting how it feels to sleep

Only to face another dreary day"

Eric's songwriting and production lift a lot of stuff out of the 1970's songbooks of The Beatles, The Kinks, Paul Simon, Van Morrison, and The Rolling Stones.  These tunes are fun to listen to; there are lots of lyrical and melodic hooks, a lot of change-ups in the instrumental textures and beats.  Eric is very creative in his arrangements and his production work, and the variety in these tracks prevents boredom from creeping in as you listen to the entire album.  He has definitely designed it as an odyssey to be enjoyed from beginning to end.

Eric includes a nice cover of an obscure Ray Lamontagne tune, but otherwise, he wrote all of these songs.  He spread the engineering around between four local Maine studios, but takes production credit for himself.  Eric has been working on this album for three years, so you know it's all his.  He got some great help, though, from the likes of Ryan Cyr (drums), and also from Chuck Gagne (drums) and Nate Cyr (bass) of Dominic and the Lucid (Dominic contributes backing vocals in "The Plan" and appears in "The Toys of War" as part of a soldier chorus.)  Kyla Morse and Alison Violette provide backing vocals on several tracks, and Leah Finkelstein plays piano on "Uniform".

The CD release party for this album is on January 10, 2009, at The Big Easy, and most of the contributors will be there.  Opening is Pete Miller, a singer/songwriter who many of you have enjoyed around town lately, followed by Strange Pleasure .  After Eric's set, an appearance by Eric's band Giraffe Attack is not out of the question.

Details on ordering the album are forthcoming (it will certainly be available at the launch party).   Individual MP3 tracks are currently available on Eric's webpage.  You can stay up to date by visiting the website of Shadow Shine Records, a record label launched by Eric in the past few months.  "Fine Old World" is the label's first release.

This album has been a long time in the making, and in my opinion, it has been worth the wait.  Chase it down!