Y’all knew THIS one was coming, right? What with the whole “I haven’t been able to shut up about these guys for the last several months” thing? Because yeah, let’s talk Le Vent du Nord. Hands down, uncontested, kings of my favorite Quebecois bands. The guys who are going head to head with Great Big Sea for Anna’s All-Time Favorite Band EVER. I gushed enthusiastically about them when I first found them. I adored the album Symphonique, and I fangirled Tromper le temps seven ways from Sunday.
So yes, it should surprise absolutely none of you that if you ask me “So Anna, I want to check out Quebec trad music, who should I listen to first?”, my instant answer is going to be “Le Vent du Nord”!
Many and varied are the musical reasons, but primary among them are Nicolas Boulerice’s mastery of the bitchin’ metal hurdy-gurdy solo, their toe-curling four-part harmony, and their humor on stage when explaining songs to English-speaking audiences. Not to mention that I have personal experience now with how awesome they are to see perform live.
And I could write entire dissertations on the theme of Jesus jumping Christ, Olivier Demers can play him some fiddle. That guy? That guy right there? That’s the guy who’s making my fingers itch to pick up my flutes and try to cram as many Quebec tunes into my brain as possible. The guy who inspired me to transcribe “Manteau d’hiver” just because I love that tune so much I had to figure out how to play it. The guy who, because he is just that awesome, gave me his permission to ask him musical questions. BEST. FIDDLE. PLAYER. EVER.
It should also surprise none of you that my unequivocal recommendation for “which Le Vent du Nord album should you get first?” is Tromper le temps. For the love of all that’s holy, get that album. In no small part because it’s got the aforementioned “Manteau d’hiver” on it, but it’s also got “Le dragon de Chimay”, and I’ve written before about how I’m obliged to love the hell out of that song because it involves a knight being transformed into a dragon. A DRAGON, YOU GUYS. Why yes, I DO love a little bit of fantasy in my trad, thank you. 😀
If you can find it, I also cannot recommend Symphonique passionately enough. It’s the only Le Vent album not available digitally to US customers, though, so if you want it, you’ll have to order it–or maybe show up at a Le Vent du Nord concert and buy it from them directly. (Which you should do. And tell them Anna the Piper sent you!) For one thing, it’s an excellent live album. For another, the juxtaposition of Le Vent and an orchestral backup is lush and gorgeous and it’s got three of the top repeat tracks on my Le Vent du Nord playlist. As a former student of symphonic band and wind ensemble in my school days, I adore the orchestral backup. I adore it like kittens, and have to sternly remind myself that next March, when I get to see Le Vent do a live symphony show, that no it is not socially acceptable to use stealth technology to hide in the flute section so I can make off with the sheet music. (But I digress.)
If you go poking further through Le Vent’s discography, it’s important to note that they did go through two prior membership changes before settling on their current lineup. Here are my notable tracks on the various previous albums!
Their very first album, Maudite moisson !, is worth listening to just because that one features vocals by Bernard Simard, who does have a gorgeous champagne-like tenor voice. And it’s got the original versions of “Vive l’amour” and “Au bord de la fontaine”, which have survived as concert staples for the group.
Album #2, Les amants du Saint-Laurent, drops M. Simard but gains Simon Beaudry, and I’ve already gushed enthusiastically about M. Beaudry’s vocal skills. This album’s worth a look for “Cré-mardi”, one of my all-time favorites, but it’s also got “Le retour du fils soldat” and the title track as well, both of which show up in current Le Vent concerts.
As of album #3, Dans les airs, they drop Benoit Bourque but gain Réjean Brunet. So anything in the discography as of Dans les airs or later gets you the current membership of the group, and that’s the point at which their vocals really kick into high gear for me. On Dans les airs, look for “Rosette” and “La piastre des États” as standout vocals performances by Nicolas and Réjean, but also look for “Le vieux cheval” for more KILL ANNA DED WITH HARMONY loveliness. Instrumental-wise, look for “Petit rêve III” (which I can play, woo!) and “L’heure bleue”.
Album #4, La part du feu, adds “Lanlaire” to the Le Vent arsenal and that’s hands down one of my favorites of theirs. But this album also unleashes “Octobre 1837” (c.f. previous GODDAMN Olivier can play him some fiddle commentary), “Les métiers” (ridiculously bawdy fun, this one), and especially “Rossignolet”, which is haunting and beautiful and one of my top repeat Le Vent tracks.
For live Le Vent you do actually have two options–the aforementioned Symphonique, but also Mesdames et messieurs, which is their live concert from the Memoires et Racines festival in 2008. Kickass version of “Au bord de la fontaine” on there, and there’s guest support from Bernard Simard on “Vive l’amour” as well.
Ultimately, though, I stand by my rec of Tromper le temps for which album you should get first!
Find the boys at their official site, their Bandcamp page (where you can stream a lot of their current stuff AND find helpful lyrics in both French AND English), on their Facebook page, or on Twitter. Tell them I sent you.
And in closing, here, here’s Le Vent doing “Le dragon de Chimay”!