By Kristin Dicara-McClellan • Portland Press Hearld • Portland, ME • 4/3/2014
All of us Eric Bettencourt fans soon will get to hear his long anticipated release, “An Underwater Dream.”
The album and the song of the same name opens up with a beautifully lonesome acoustic piece as it leans gently into a lush sonic thicket. Perched atop the mix in perfect position is Eric’s unmistakable voice whispering to us about this reverie of his. The imagery is as vague as it is beautiful. With tight harmonies that lightly grace the vibe, bringing a big flavor to the picture, the mood is set; it’s smoky and fluid, calm and evocative.
“Climbing Back” takes a smooth step up into a cozy groove of modern Americana blues. A sweet asymmetry of pauses and a soulful Bettencourt all tell of losing love and wondering what went wrong.
The semi-cheery musical currents at work beneath his words, “I’m climbing back with a limp again/I’m gonna swallow that same medicine,” tare rather incongruent, and I could almost hear the laughing sighs in and under his breath.
“Baby in the Bathtub,” “Tracing Paper” and “Harold and Maude” each bring a uniquely heavy-footed beat and some more obvious levity to your ears.
On the production end, it really pulls off what is so very difficult to do with this particular type of music. It manages to bring an immediacy that belongs to the live show and carries the listener through its more upbeat parts without dumbing them down sonically or losing the overall dynamic of the collection as a whole.
So when “Shake Us Off” begins by throwing its pedal-steel whines way off into the cavernous distance, six tracks deep, I got a rush of tingle down my spine as its first few notes settled back into a misty space, with a slow-pulsing drum pattern rising up to buoy them.
“Weary Traveler” brings back the blues with a patient resolve, and with lines like “routine is the antidote and the poison the unknown,” it infectiously drives a point home.
The album closer, “Under a Tree,” leaves us with a waltzy c’est la vie. It’s full of rich imagery of the personal sort, then eventually ends with an exhale of “there’s a face in your window that relates but can’t understand,” and the listener can only speculate. Whatever that means, I’m pretty sure Eric’s right.
But even if he’s not, I think this is his most solid work to date.