The devil inside: Eric French, meet Mr. Hyde

Little fury things
By CHRIS CONTI  |  October 6, 2010

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BOTH SIDES NOW French (or Hyde).

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Eric French possesses a pedigree well-befitting of his ambitious double-CD debut, Eric French & Mr Hyde: a degree from the Berklee School of Music, a veteran blues guitarist for a dad (Ron French), and continued insight and guidance from invaluable family friends such as local six-string icon Eric Fontana. Eric French & Mr Hyde features one disc of acoustic tracks and a second "electric" disc of roadhouse rock and barroom blues numbers, both highlighting French's nimble picking and introspective, heart-on-sleeve narratives. This isn't a split disc/split personality concept album, but a revelatory collection of impressive cuts French has been developing over the past three years.

A bluesman at heart, French culls inspiration from failed relationships, as eloquently saluted in the album's liner notes: "And a very special thanks to all my ex-girlfriends. Without your exquisite incompatibility this would never have been possible." Divine inspiration arrives in the form of gospel singer Andre Lovelle, who provided backing vocals and (with vocalist Ingrid Gerdes) will accompany French on upcoming dates. French's touring trio includes bassist Walt Skorupski, percussionist Corey Schreppel, and brother Aaron French.

A blog entry from earlier this year could double as a mantra: "You can grab people by the neck and toss them somewhere emotionally when you play it right." The hushed opener "Your Mountain" gives way to the pretty melody of "Lay Your Fiddle Down." In "There Goes the Neighborhood,""Hate just bought the house that trust lived in" while Spite and Envy call to say "they'd be happy to drop by." Sexual identity is coldly addressed on "Soldier," but nothing tops French's subtle delivery as a vengeful lover scorned on "Ain't No Fury." Eric and his crew dive into rockabilly mode on the second disc's two-minute opener "Worst In Me" before having some big-time fun on tongue-in-cheek cuts "My Girlfriend's Back," "BIG Dream," and "16 (Nobody Told Me)." French's guitar skills rise above on "Sally Don't Lie" and the feisty, fuzzy "Dirty Bluz." "Maybe I love her, maybe I don't/Maybe she'll notice, maybe she won't," he laments on "She Doesn't Know," while Lovelle gracefully adorns the upbeat closing track "I Wanna Luv."

The Eric French & Mr Hyde digital download is available right now at ericfrench.com, while the snazzy digipak will be available at the CD release party at the Met this weekend.

Here are some highlights from our e-chat with Eric French (his first official Eric French & Mr. Hyde presser):

YOUR BLUES BACKGROUND IS PRETTY DAMN IMPRESSIVE TO SAY THE LEAST. My dad raised me on a steady diet of blues and rock guitarists, and Eric Fontana helped prepare me for music school when I was a teenager. I am a disciple of the Eric Fontana School of Rocking the F*@k Out. There is no table too wobbly to stand on while ripping a solo, no heart in the audience too distant to break just a little.

DID YOU INITIALLY SET OUT TO CREATE A SPLIT-PERSONALITY "CONCEPT ALBUM?" Originally, I was inadvertently coming up with both rock as well as folkier arrangements, so we could go play a coffeehouse, then for the next gig we'd crank it up for a roadhouse bar. I felt like the tunes on each side all belonged together, but I didn't really have a plot in mind, nor enough clever transitions from song to song to create an actual "concept album." I wanted to include both styles on this album, so when it comes time to release the next project people won't be confused.

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