Guy Bélanger – Eldorado
11 songs – 51 minutes
Eldorado is Guy Bélanger’s eighth album and it is also perhaps the Québécois singer/harmonica player’s most ambitious release to date. Featuring seven songs written or co-written by Bélanger, together with some quite left-field covers, the result is an exuberant and uplifting pure blues album by one of the modern harmonica masters that takes the listener down any number of unexpected paths.
Bélanger’s core band comprises Robert MacDonald on guitars, Marc-André Drouin on bass and Michel Dufour on drums. There are also a number of guests, including Eric Longsworth on cello (on “Hummin'”), Paul Picard on percussion, Bob Stagg on B3, piano and wurlitzer, and Rod Huard on backing vocals. In addition, Mathis Haug (vocals and guitar), Stef Notari (percussion) and Ben Rapetti (bass) feature on one of the more surprising covers on the album. Together, the musicians create a series of subtle yet distinct musical landscapes over which Bélanger’s voice and harmonica float to great effect.
Bélanger enhances his reputation as a harmonica virtuoso on gorgeously melodic instrumentals such as the opening “Carving The Wind” and gentle title track, but he is also an under-rated singer, displaying a winning vulnerability on tracks like “When Will I Know”. A song such as “Wicked” will veer off in unexpected directions whilst still being firmly rooted in the blues, while the deep blues of “Hummin'” gives Bélanger ample opportunity to stretch out whilst nodding to his blues influences. He is also generous in highlighting the other musicians in his band. MacDonald turns in a number of striking guitar solos, whilst on a track like L. Subramaniam’s funky “Ganga”, Drouin’s bass is fundamental to the essence of the song. Stagg’s keyboard work in the middle of “Hope & Faith” is the hook around which the rest of the song revolves.
The choices of covers are also inspired. L. Subramaniam is of course one of India’s greatest musicians. And it is impossible to hear Bélanger’s interpretation of Van Morrison’s “Bright Side Of The Road” without a huge smile and a fair amount of toe-tapping (particular kudos to his rhythm section for the joyous groove they lay down on this track). The haunting cover of Prince’s “Sign O’ The Times”, meanwhile, one of the highlights of what is a very fine album, is re-imagined as an acoustic blues lament with some lovely slide guitar from Haug and a memorable descending chord progression that subtly nods towards Jim Stafford’s “Swamp Witch”.
Beautifully recorded by Charles- Émile Beaudin at Studios Piccolo in Montreal, Eldorado is an album of rare ambition where virtuosity is celebrated. Seven of the tracks are instrumentals. The music throughout is atmospheric and spacious and almost cinematic. Eldorado is an unusual album. It’s very different but it’s also all blues. Highly recommended.