Eric DeVries – Song & Dance Man: Album Review

Eric DeVries brings the Very Best of Dutch Americana!

Release Date:  4th November 2021

Label: MIG Music

Formats: CD, Download

Diligent ATB-ers will know about Eric DeVries – if only through his membership of Matthews Southern Comfort – the band he joined in 2017.  He features on MSC’s last two albums – Like A Radio (2018) and their most recent offering, The New Mine (2020).  But there’s much, much more to Eric DeVries, as his impressive CV and this latest album both ably demonstrate.

Eric is a leading exponent of The Netherlands’ flourishing Americana scene.  Song & Dance Man is his fourth solo album and follows the award-winning Close To Home (2014).  In the meantime, and in addition to his Matthews Southern Comfort activities, he’s also released five albums with Dutch all-star Americana ensemble Hidden Agenda Deluxe.  Eric writes in the best style and tradition of Americana – his work has been regularly and favourably compared to that of Guy Clark and Rodney Crowell – and his delivery of his songs often evokes the best of Gene Clark, New Riders of the Purple Sage and, unsurprisingly, that of his great friend, Iain Matthews.  He’s a very busy, as well as a highly talented guy.

Eric has taken a low-key approach to this latest offering.  The album is, with the exception of the occasional (yet effective) lacing of electric guitar, entirely acoustic.  Eric plays acoustic guitar, harmonica and dulcimer, Lucas Beukers provides some wonderful, often highly subtle, double bass, Joost van Es contributes some excellent violin, Sophie Janna – divine vocal harmonies, and producer Janos Koolen chips in with just about anything, whenever there’s a need for something extra – and he always gets it just right!  But the real icing on the cake is Eric’s clear, tuneful voice, which manages to suit each song absolutely perfectly – and you’d never guess his Dutch roots – his is a voice that comes to you directly from Nashville!  Song & Dance Man is a thoroughly rewarding listening experience.

Indeed, no less a personage than Iain Matthews himself has this to say about Eric and the album: “Eric is the real thing.  I know his music well, from our time together in Matthews Southern Comfort.  He has a writing style unlike any other Dutch songwriter.  To hear him perform his own songs and, indeed, those of others, in that inimitable high tenor, leaning over the microphone in his high-heeled boots and bebop hat, you’re more inclined to think that his roots are in Tulsa, Oklahoma, rather than in The Netherlands.  On his new album, he’s chosen the perfect blend of acoustic instruments to embellish his finely constructed tunes.  It’s an album to listen to, or to dance to.  Your choice.  But if I were you, I’d kick back with a generous glass of quality Chardonnay and groove your way through.  At least twice.  Maybe three times.  And Iain, I think, captures the essence of Song & Dance Man in a nutshell.  Especially with advice vis-a-vis the quality Chardonnay!

Song & Dance Man is a veritable showcase for the writing talents of a songwriter with whom you’ve maybe had little previous contact.  The songs are passionate and highly observational and deal with a range of subjects such as endurance of hard knocks, human frailty, lost and unrequited love, drink and depression, the passage of time and following your dreams.  There’s bluegrass, slow waltzes, sprightly tunes, soft ballads and much more to enjoy; Song & Dance Man is an album to savour.

The jolly, upbeat (despite the confrontation in the lyrics..) Little White Lies gets things underway – this is Americana that fits right into the Iain Matthews mould – an enjoyable song, laced with electric guitar and harmonica touches that set the scene perfectly for the pleasures to come.  Banjo and violin join the fray for Jericho Walls, a contemplative song with some beautiful harmonies from Sophie.  It’s laid back and fairly sparse, but manages to swing nevertheless, and it reminded me of the New Riders’ I Don’t Know You.

Perhaps my favourite of all the excellent songs on The Song & Dance Man is the quasi-title track, Ballad Of A Song And Dance Man.  It’s a sprightly waltz tune, beautifully sung – Eric’s vocal is pure Gene Clark – and with some wonderful mandolin fills from Janos.  It’s a brilliant song.  The ghost of Gene Clark also haunts the slow, quiet, contemplative Soften The Ground, a delightful song concerning lost love, whilst, in Time is All, Eric offers an odd juxtaposition – a quiet acoustic song with lyrics that use the metaphor of a speeding car to describe the pace of life.

The keening, plaintive, Matters Of Love is another song that I expect Iain Matthews will love.  It’s a quiet song with delicate sprinklings of acoustic guitar and some beautifully melodic bass playing from Lucas, and it is, perhaps the album’s most overtly intimate song.  Eric’s voice, flawless throughout, is at its absolute best for All I Know How To Do, and Another Round is another paradox – a raucous drinking song, delivered in the gentlest, most tuneful way possible – and Sophie’s harmonies are, once again, a delight.

Love songs that are ever-so-slightly self-pitying are one of the album’s principal themes, and the acoustic guitar/mandolin-accompanied Don’t Let Me Be is another nice example of that theme.  Mary is another quiet, understated, tender and intimate love song that really works.  Again, the song’s accompaniment comes from just acoustic guitar and mandolin and, along with Eric’s outstanding voice, that’s all that’s needed to put this beautiful song across.  And the song’s opening line – “I don’t really know you, but I know I want to, and I want to know you well” surely articulates an emotion that most of us have felt at some time…

The fiddle-driven But For The Grace springs everything back to life after the contemplation of Don’t Let Me Be and Mary, before we reach the album’s zenith and its final word.  Closing track Sunday Eve in Amsterdam is another real highlight, on an album packed with highlights.  The lyric evokes days gone by, ponders the purpose of life and looks for an anchor point which is, in Eric’s case, the sights and activities of Amsterdam that he recalls from his youth.  Janos’s clarinet and his string arrangement add another dimension to a fantastic song that provides a memorable end to a simply wonderful album.

Song & Dance Man is an album that needs to be heard – and once you’ve heard it, you’ll want to repeat the experience again and again.  Why not follow Iain’s advice.  Uncork that quality Chardonnay, settle back, and give your ears a treat that they won’t forget.

Watch the Official video to Little White Lies – the album’s opening track – here:

Eric DeVries Online: Website/ Facebook/ Instagram/ YouTube

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