By MIKE OLCOTT
Although he's a tiny dude onstage, Eric Bettencourt carries a pretty big stick around Portland. His production company, Shadow Shine, has birthed some of the most well-rounded local releases of the past several years, and his own records tend to be memorable, meticulously arranged efforts.
Bettencourt's latest, "Secret Songs for Secret People," marks the next step of evolution for an artist who might be turning into a star before our very eyes.
The singer has not reinvented the wheel here. He still sounds like he has swallowed a porcupine, a feature that allows him a set of pipes all his own.
On the gorgeous set-opener "Fell Into Place," though, Bettencourt's wild rasp has a newfound gentleness, and gets a nice country push from the three-part harmonies that occasionally join him. The understatement is a sign of vitality for a self-assured performer, and it returns on the swaying "Mast."
Most of all, you can feel the pure joy when this guy plays, no more so than on the breezy instrumental "Secret Songs."
"Secret Songs for Secret People" is such a leap forward for Bettencourt that it begs the question what stones are still left unturned. Well, for all its songwriting sparkle, the CD sticks exclusively to ephemeral ear candy. Even a track called "Dying" is an upbeat foot stomper.
It'd be fascinating to hear Bettencourt's writing take the occasional turn for the much darker, to shed the pied piper role and show some scars. Until then, spin "Secret Songs" for easy smiles.
Mike Olcott is a freelance writer.