A PLAYER: Multi-instrumentalist Eric Bettencourt.
Sometimes January in this town can be a bit slow. It's cold. There's a holiday hangover. Whatever. But 2009 opens with a packed first few weeks of January and threatens to remain in overdrive for the good portion of the winter. Here are the dates to mark on the calendar:
JANUARY 9 Though the album has been available to the world at large since late November, Ocean's Pantheon of the Lesser, their second full-length release on Important Records, gets its local launch-party tonight at Geno's. Ocean continue their dense-metal ways here, with a 41-minute track (they give it more than an hour live sometimes) in "Beacon" and a 25-minute track in "Of the Lesser," but there are subtle progressive differences to listen for among the grinding, circling bottom-heavy chords and ever-changing time signatures.
The band's debut, Here Where Nothing Grows, is the biggest-selling release ever for Important, and Ocean have received wide acclaim from slo-core and smart-metal aficionados the world over. This new album, some four years in the making is what the band consider their deconstructionist approach to finding the very essence of a song. Their success is the essence of what a band from Portland can do when they're dedicated to the pursuit of their craft.
Also, tonight Cambiata release their second full-length, which is self-titled. We're going to do a full review for next week, but in the meantime check out Changing Everything, a documentary of the making of the new album, at www.myspace.com/cambiata.
JANUARY 10 It's been a bit of a long time coming, but Eric Bettencourt, of Giraffe Attack and founder of Shadow Shine Records, tonight drops his debut solo release, Fine Old World, at the Big Easy. As is increasingly common nowadays, Bettencourt plays nearly everything on the album, generally only ceding drum duties to the likes of Chuck Gagne (Dominic and the Lucid) and Ryan Cyr (Strange Pleasure, Giraffe Attack) and getting vocal help from time to time, most notably from Shadow Shine labelmate Kyla Morse.
This micro-managing makes for an extremely cohesive, if sometimes self-indulgent, record, with a title track split into three pieces throughout the record that is emblematic of Bettencourt's effort to release more than just a collection of songs. He plays myriad guitars well, along with banjo, keyboards, and sundry percussion instruments, and his vocals vary between a clean tenor and a grittier mid-range delivery, a spectrum that runs between Jim James and Kelly Jones.
At times, he can be a bit manic, as on the quick-strummed "Delaney" (which is fitting, considering the recent passing of wonderful songwriter Delaney Bramlett, who with then-wife Bonnie wrote some amazing songs and played some great gigs in the '60s and '70s) that luckily gets reined in a bit for a major sing-along chorus with Morse. Bettencourt's guitar tone might remind you of Dickey Betts's here, but his solo is more jazzy than jammy.
But most of the record is either playfully upbeat or genuinely soulful, and his lyrics are nearly universally interesting and poetic. "The Plan" (maybe a Built to Spill reference?) is the former, a shuffling old-time rock tune full of self-assured resignation: "What you see is what you get/There ain't no point in changing it/Perfection she's a busted fairy tale." Teamed with backing vocals from Dominic Lavoie, you might be reminded of a Jeff Buckley tune.
"Sweet Elise" opens as a bit of a gospel piece, rootsy with martial drums in the backing, and Bettencourt doing his own sweet-voiced backing vocals. Then the guitar gets quicker in its up and down runs and comes back out into the countrified open. There's some very nice electric guitar work here.
Bettencourt also throws in a Ray LaMontagne cover, "I Wish I Could Change Your Mind," which has been kicking around on various bootlegs. He gives it the full-band, 12-bar blues treatment, keeping things as dark and broody as LaMontagne likes them, but infusing it with an almost Christmas cheer in the turnaround.
This is a nice record, with some very good ideas fleshed out, but it may be that Bettencourt's future lies more in producing and songwriting than with fronting a solo act.
JANUARY 16 You've heard about the Refugees at this point, a three-gal collaboration between local Cindy Bullens and her fellow music-industry veteran Deborah Holland and Wendy Waldman. Well, now's the time to come out and see what all the fuss surrounding the singer-songwriter supergroup is about. They'll play a hometown CD-release show of sorts for Unbound, their debut record. Between the three of them, they've released 19 solo discs, so they're old hands at this release-show business. Should be a good time at One Longfellow.
JANUARY 17 No lie: The Port City Music Hall finally opens tonight, with headliner Fear Nuttin' Band and local opener Sidecar Radio. Fear Nuttin' apparently fuse metal, hip-hop, and Jamaican Dancehall, and their new album, according to their Web site, "might be the first album in history to cause a mosh pit that ends in hugs and high fives." Anyhoo, they're typical of the types of bands you'll start seeing come ripping through the PCMH, mid-level touring acts that have a good national fanbase, a one-hit wonder to fall back on, or solid Internet buzz that hasn't quite translated into mainstream appeal yet.