I said it before and I’ll say it again: goddamn, the gentlemen of Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer can SING. When it comes to hardcore fangirling, okay yeah, I’m flying my fangirl flag VERY high for Genticorum, De Temps Antan, and especially Le Vent du Nord… but musically speaking, the Charbonniers are right up there fighting it out with the younger boys for whose albums I play the most.
If you want to check out Quebec trad, you cannot go wrong with anything these gentlemen have recorded, but my earlier recommendation stands: get their live album. And in particular, get it in physical form if you can, because En personne comes with an awesome concert DVD. Mind you, okay yeah, the concert’s in Quebec, so all their between-song banter is of course in French. Yes, that’s going to be challenging for French newbies like myself. I don’t care. Get the DVD anyway just for the sheer fun of watching the Charbonniers perform. Having actually had the pleasure of seeing them live myself now (merci beaucoup, Memoire et Racines!), I’m here to tell you: they’re huge fun.
(And I’m considering it an eventual master class of practicing my French ear to eventually figure out what the hell the band is saying to each other in that concert, anyway. They’re clearly being hysterical, given how the audience is cracking up. There’s an entire lengthy sequence towards the end of “Everybody’s going to give Normand Miron a stern talking-to” banter in particular that’s fun to watch just for everybody’s expressions! And I will figure this out, oh my yes.)
And the other fun thing about the DVD is actually a bonus feature that comes on it–a featurette in which the Charbonniers went down to New Orleans for a performance down there, and they spent a lot of time just geeking out with folks of Cajun ancestry down there, about shared musical traditions and how much French the younger folks they ran into know and such. It’s a lovely little thing to watch.
Here’s a recent live vid of the Charbonniers (circa last year), so you can get a real nice idea of what they sound like from this:
Now, if you actually do want a studio album, I’d say either go with Wô (which has strong studio versions of most of the stuff on the live album), or with À la grâce de Dieu, which has several excellent tracks on it–and in particular, “J’aime bien mieux ma mie et sa chemise”. On which Michel Bordeleau sings lead and y’all know how I swoon for the harmony? HOLY CRAP YOU GUYS the harmony on those choruses. There’s harmony there that rivals “River Driver” and “General Taylor” and “Le retour du fils soldat” for killing Anna DED.
ALSO: it’s well worth mentioning that since pretty much everybody in this band is a veteran of the genre, you can find them all over the place on other albums. Michel Bordeleau, André Marchand, and Normand Miron all do double duty in the group Les Mononcles as well. Michel Bordeleau and André Marchand are of course both former members of La Bottine Souriante, so you can hear them both on earlier La Bottine albums. And André and Normand also have excellent albums with fiddler Lisa Ornstein, which are well worth your attention. And Normand also has some work he’s done with Bernard Simard and I DO love me some Bernard Simard vocals too.
So yeah, if you start looking around the genre at all, you’ll run into these names a LOT. Absolutely justifiably, because they are consummate musicians. Especially André Marchand, who as near as I can tell appears to be the Nick Fury of Quebecois Trad, in how he’s working with a lot of younger musicians and passing down his know-how.
TL;DR summary: Jesus hopping Christ on a pogo stick the Charbonniers can sing, and you should give them All the Monies. Preferably enough to get them to come west for shows so I can see them perform more often!