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This Big House - EP Review - Go Magazine

By MIKE OLCOTT - Go magazine - Portland Press Herald

 

The last time Eric Bettencourt was heard from, he was releasing his fantastic, full-length sophomore CD, ''The Giraffe Attack Collection.'' He is as prolific an artist as we've got in these parts, and his recording efforts yield songs that ooze confidence and bleed soul.

Ever active, Bettencourt recently released the EP, ''This Big House,'' with plans to put the title track on the new film ''Come to Know'' from the Maine Film Collaborative.

It's a simple, three-song effort that barely warrants a review, except that Bettencourt's work may someday be regarded as the time capsule ''sound'' of Portland during this stretch of years. He has reached a level of trust with his fans where any release is worthwhile.

''Liza Jane'' gets imaginary boots stomping immediately; this tune should be played loud in a room with dusty floorboards. Though it's a traditional number, there's nothing old-fashioned about it, and it has Bettencourt's paw prints all over it.

With an urgent banjo-vs.-rock-guitar verse dynamic, it's rough-and-tumble around the edges, with a tootsie-roll pop center when the chorus drops.

This is a tension-release structure that the ''Giraffe Attack'' songwriter does as well, and as often, as anyone. At 2 minutes, 31 seconds, it's here and gone, but not before it fades out with some backwards banjo spicing the outro.

''My Lady Tuesday'' mercilessly conjures the long light of a New England July day. With furious finger-picking and a great electric bass sidekick, the artist is in his comfort zone with this original instrumental.

The best part of the EP? That would be Bettencourt's joyous hands-on percussion that hits midway through this tune. He's just bopping his head, rapping out rhythms on the nearest drum possible -- in this case, his knees. It fits naturally with the rest of the arrangement -- a snare or djembe would be overpowering, but knee-drums surely beget more knee-drums, invoking listeners to keep up with their own bodily rhythms.

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It's strange then, that the title track is a bit of a non-starter. It's an Allman Brothers haunted-house ballad, beautifully rendered with the help of talented friends such as Amanda Gervasi of Gypsy Tailwind.

But the progression plods along predictably, a three-chord yawn, and nothing of any transcendence occurs until the inevitable soaring guitar/ghostly reverb choir denouement. A saucy bridge, a ''Layla''-like tempo shift, or anything constituting a risk would have carried this tune a lot further.

 

Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.