Just hearing the initial steps in “It Don’t Mean a Thing” is enough to get most music-lovers eager for the climax of the song, and when it’s being presented by players on the caliber of Bettman & Halpin, this sensation is all the stronger. Bettman & Halpin set out to take the classics in great Americana, from “It Don’t Mean a Thing” to “Moon River” and beyond, out for a hot stroll in their new album Timeless, and although compiling such material together for an all-acoustic outing has been done scores of times before, I can’t recall such a compilation feeling as gripping as this one does on all counts.
Timeless plays off of a recurring theme of observation – both lyrical and instrumental the same – and while its progressive nature is fostered primarily by its rousing virtuosities, it’s never defined by sophistication or indulgence. Whether they’re cutting into “All of Me” or the original piece “When We’re Together,” this duo is poised and uninterested in the flippancy of fancy sonic experiments. They’ve got less love for the cerebral than they do the straightforward, and it works to their benefit endlessly in this LP.
“Moon River” exploits an understated darkness for all its worth, making its comforting yet nocturnal melodies sound more ghostly and gentle than they ever would have in a non-acoustic setting, but I wouldn’t say this song is steeped entirely in contrast. “Miss Otis Regrets” and its equally pensive cousin in “Cry Me a River” sport much more juxtaposition than the former track does, and “Accentuate the Positive” and the Bettman-penned “What a Lovely Day” represent singularity in a sea of multidimensionality; to this end, diversity is as much an influence over the style here as anything else would be.
There’s a jazz component to every track in this album, and in songs like “Nature Boy” and the beat-happy “It’s Only a Paper moon,” this aesthetic takes over the attention from the folkiness of the cosmetics. Where others would have played it safe with a lot of this material, Bettman & Halpin are more than happy to venture outside of their comfort zone, assisting in our viewing the majority of the tracklist as something familiar yet inspired by artistry well outside of the history books.
Be it the patience of “Autumn Leaves,” the sincerity of “Blue Skies,” or the bold brooding of “How Did You Get in My Heart,” Timeless will worm its way out of the speakers and into your soul if you give it the chance to this spring, and though I had a feeling I was going to like what I heard here just based on the reputation of the act, I was still pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of the music. Both original and cover songs in Timeless sound like anthems for a new era in the celebration of old-fashioned Americana, and if Bettman & Halpin can keep producing on this level, they’re going to enjoy a lot more accolades from here on out.
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