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Quebecois Music

Album review: Maison de bois, by Nicolas Boulerice

Maison de bois

Maison de bois

I have written upon many occasions about Le Vent du Nord, and in particular about how every single one of those boys ranks very high on my list of musicians for whom I’ll buy ANYTHING they produce. And I would do this no matter what was on those albums. Olivier Demers accorde son violon? I’d buy that! Quarante-cinq minutes de la basse de Réjean Brunet? Gimme! Simon Beaudry chante dans le douche? Sign me the HELL up.

Given my documented partiality, therefore, it’ll surprise exactly none of you that I jumped all over Nicolas Boulerice’s new solo release, Maison de bois.

If you know Le Vent du Nord, you know that M. Boulerice is the lead singer, hurdy-gurdy player, and piano player. If you’ve seen my prior album and show reviews for this band, you know in particular that he is a master of the hurdy-gurdy, and provoked my Dara into using the phrase “bitchin’ metal hurdy-gurdy solo”. The rich character of his voice and his dynamic hurdy-gurdy playing are a huge part of Le Vent’s overall sound, and therefore a huge part of what cemented my fandom of them in the first place.

It is important to note straight up, though, that you should not expect Maison de bois to sound like a Le Vent du Nord album.

Prior Le Vent releases do hint at what you’ll find on this album, mind you. On Tromper le temps, there’s a track called “Dans les cachots” that gives you a very good preview of the overall flavor of Maison de bois: Nico’s vocals standing on their own, with a stark, emotive aspect to them that a singer of traditional music doesn’t necessarily always have a chance to display, especially if he’s in a band renowned for being upbeat and lively. I’m still enough of a beginner at French that I can’t follow his lyrics without seeing them written out (and I’m not seeing lyrics on Nico’s Bandcamp page, drat), but I can tell you that the songs we get in this release are introspective and thoughtful of tone. I can easily imagine them sung in a smoky nightclub in a noir film.

Instrumentally, we have no hurdy-gurdy here. But we do have plenty of piano, and like the vocals, the piano aims for an overall introspective timbre. Which is not to say it’s understated–because as with the singing, the piano covers a broad range of expression, from quiet, delicate accents to more powerful chords. Other instruments from the backup musicians make appearances as well: some light percussion, a bit of bass, even a nicely muted trumpet on “Avec toi” (which is I think the song that sounded most to me like it should be sung in a smoky nightclub).

The backup vocals are likewise lightly handled. Accustomed as they are to hearing Nico singing with the Le Vent boys, my ears found it a bit odd to hear him harmonizing with a woman–but Mia Lacroix’s voice blended beautifully with his, and so her presence on the album stood out the most for me among the backup musicians in the credits on the Bandcamp page.

Overall, if you’re a Le Vent fan, this album is definitely required listening, just so that you can get a true sense of what Nicolas Boulerice is capable of with his vocals. It’s a refreshing change of pace, albeit one best suited for when you want your music to be moody and quiet. Because as much as I love Le Vent du Nord’s skill at making me want to get up and dance (or play!), sometimes I just want to kick back and listen. And this release has much to reward a thoughtful listener.

Maison du bois is available on Bandcamp. (I will update this post if I find other places you can buy it!)

Quebecois Music

Album review: Têtu, by Le Vent du Nord

Têtu

Têtu

There are certain phrases that hold massive magical power with me, people. “Great Big Sea is coming to town”, for one. “Let’s go out for sushi”, for another. “I just read and loved your latest book,” that one’s a contender. My favorite over the last couple of years, though, is hands down “a new album by Le Vent du Nord”. Têtu is album number eight for mes gars, and the sixth one with the lineup of Nicolas Boulerice, Olivier Demers, Simon Beaudry, and Réjean Brunet (counting four studio albums, the live album Mesdames et messieurs, and my beloved Symphonique)!

You may take it as read at this point that yeah, I’m going to adore anything these boys do. That goes without saying, since I’ve spent a whole lot of energy here on my blog and on social media not being able to shut up about them. But when they drop a new album, I get to actually back up my fangirling with evidence. I get to talk about not only adoring the music of this band, but why I adore it, too. And despite this post I made earlier today, I do not really have the French vocabulary yet to talk properly about this album. So I’m going to do it in English.

Overall picoreview first! This is the longest Le Vent album yet, with a total of 15 tracks, and there’s a whole lot to love with each one. After all the time these boys have spent playing together, they’ve pretty much got this down to an art and a science, and it shows here. Têtu is a tight, expert production, one in which the joy of the music shines through on every note. If you’re a fan of this band, you’re going to relish this album. If you’re not a fan yet, I submit for consideration that this would be an excellent album to use as your first introduction to them. Instrumentally and vocally, les gars are at the top of their game. And there are particularly high quantities of Simon Beaudry singing lead on things, and that’s always a good thing.

And now, track by track commentary behind the fold!

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Quebecois Music

Album review: Ici on fête, by Various Artists

Ici on fête

Ici on fête

I owe a large debt of gratitude to my friend Melanie in Montréal for alerting me to the gem that is Ici on fête, a recently released live compilation album featuring a broad swath of bands and artists in the Quebecois trad genre. This thing features not one, not two, but FIVE of my top favorite Quebec bands, all of whom I’ve posted about in glowing terms as you all know. La Bottine Souriante! De Temps Antan! Le Vent du Nord! Genticorum! And Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer!

It’s pretty much only lacking Galant tu perds ton temps to be a stunningly accurate summuary of my entire collection, really. And while I must sadface at the lack of that fine group, there is much consolation to be found in several other familiar names out of my collection here–Les Batinses, Mes Aïeux, Nicolas Pellerin, Yves Lambert & Le Bébert Orchestra, Les Chauffeurs à Pieds, and Michel Faubert.

Melanie pointed me at this communique about the album, from which I learn that the redoubtable M. Faubert (whose voice I came to know as part of the Charbonniers) is a driving force behind the collection. He in particular is represented on three of the tracks, and he’s in excellent voice in all three, setting the bar very high for everyone else’s performances–and, happily, every other artist on the album meets and matches him.

Tracks 2 and 3 all by themselves make this collection worth the price of admission for me. Y’all already know I’m a De Temps Antan fangirl, and hearing them whip through a live take of “Buvons mes chers amis buvons” is always fun. But what really blew my socks straight off is La Bottine Souriante’s track 3, “Le p’tit porte-clé”–which I immediately recognized as the song I know as “Le ziguezon”, a very early footstomper from La Bottine’s first couple of albums, recorded with André Marchand singing lead. “Le ziguezon” is one of my regular repeat favorites, and to hear it sung by Éric Beaudry here, doing it fine lively justice, made me want to start stepdancing through the streets of downtown Seattle.

Of course I cannot talk about my favorite tracks without talking about Le Vent du Nord. They’re here too, checking with a very strong take of “La fille et les dragons”. This is a song I’ve experienced as its studio take as well as on both of Le Vent’s live albums–but not with a drum track, which was a startling and fun addition, though I wouldn’t want to make a habit of that. (The drum track, after all, rather drowned out the laser precision of the feet of Olivier Demers. And we can’t have that, now can we?)

Genticorum also represents, with a take of one of their earlier instrumentals, “Cascou”, from their album Malins Plaisirs. The only lament I have about this performance is that Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand is not playing his flute on this set. But since he is cutting loose on the bass, that lament is actually fairly small. I’ve seen and heard that bass with my own eyes and ears, people. Five-stringed fretless basses are love.

And then there’s Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer, who offer up what to my ears is a treat indeed: a song of theirs that I do not, in fact, have represented on any prior album of theirs I own! The song is called “Tout l’monde est malheureux”, and it flips back and forth between morose and full harmonic speed. My ear for a song is tugging at this, convinced I’ve heard it before at some point, but I don’t currently have anything else by the same title–so if some other band I’ve purchased music from has recorded this, they did it under a different title. Clearly I’m just going to have to listen to my entire collection again until I find it. Oh darn.

“Souliers rouges” was another song I immediately recognized, though here it’s performed by Manigance, and I’m familiar with the version by La Volée d’Castors. Still, I find it great fun to hear different artists’ interpretation of the same song (the aforementioned “Le ziguezon” is a great example of this, given that I’ve got a version of that by Mauvais Sort in my collection too!). This time was no exception.

Les Tireux d’Roches, as if to console me for the lack of Genticorum’s flute firepower, handed me some of their own and filled my ears with glee. And harmony, for that matter. Very much liked their take of “Maluré soldat”. I’ve got a bit of this group represented in my collection now, but I didn’t have this song yet, which is one on of their albums I have not yet acquired. I shall be rectifying this problem at my earliest opportunity.

I was quite pleased, too, to see women take the lead on the singing at least on a couple of the tracks, so I’ll call them out both by name here: Mara Tremblay on “La chanson du bavard”, and Angèle Arsenault on “J’ai un bouton sur le bout de la langue”. This wasn’t quite enough consolation to make up for the lack of Galant tu perds ton temps, but it did help!

All in all the album is upbeat in spirit, which is befitting a release targeted for the holiday season (c.f., the communique I linked to above). While the material here isn’t specifically holiday-themed, it is nonetheless quite festive–one of the things that made me fall in love with this entire genre of music to begin with.

So if you’re looking to get into Quebecois trad, Ici on fête would be an excellent place to start. Investigation leads me to find it only available to a limited degree–it’s on iTunes, but only on the Canada store, here. And if you want to order the album from Amazon, I’d strongly advise hitting Amazon.ca in particular, since the Amazon.com site has it at import prices. You’ll get it much more cheaply from Amazon.ca, here. (Note the slow delivery time. But also note that Amazon.com right now isn’t showing the album in stock at all.)

Quebec listeners can get it from Archambault digitally here as well as on CD. Renaud-Bray is also carrying the disc here.

Outside of Quebec though, your easiest bet will be to try to scarf an iTunes gift card for the Canada store and buy it that way. It’ll be a hard hunt, but if you can find it, your ears will be rewarded.

Music

Album review: Autio Huvila, by Kardemimmit

Let me tell you about Kardemimmit, Internets!

Kardemimmit

Kardemimmit

Kardemimmit are a group of women from Finland who do folk music featuring the kantele, which is apparently Finland’s national instrument. I first heard of them via De Temps Antan, since Éric Beaudry of that band was posting on Facebook about having had the opportunity to learn about this group while De Temps Antan was recently on tour in the States. Then they shot straight onto my listening queue thanks to a kind person giving me their album Autio Huvila as a gift!

So I promptly did the appropriate thing and listened to that album ASAP (well, after thanking that kind person in email, because awwwwww :~) ). Because pro tip: giving me surprise music that features unusual instruments is an excellent way to get my musical attention. I looked up the band, went “ooh” at the instruments in their splash page pic, and then looked up the kantele at the Wikipedia link above. From that, I learned from that that it’s an instrument of the dulcimer family, and from Kardemimmit’s site, I learned that they play it in 15- and 38-stringed versions.

Then I listened to the album itself.

Now, I don’t speak a lick of Finnish, though I’ve gotten pretty good at coaxing halfway coherent meaning out of Google Translate (coupled with judicious actual Googling) if I’m trying to figure out bits of a language I don’t know. But since the band has no lyrics posted on their site, not even in Finnish, I have no earthly idea what any of these songs are about. These girls could be singing the names of all the streets in Helsinki, in alphabetical order, for all I know. But I did note with interest that iTunes tags several of the tracks on this album as “Explicit”, which made me make the O RLY? face. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from Quebec trad, it’s that the most innocuous-sounding song can have very bawdy lyrics. (Le Vent du Nord’s “Les métiers”, I’m looking at you. 😉 )

Just by sound and style alone, though, this isn’t stuff you’d think would earn that particular rating. The women of the group all have lovely voices, and between their harmony and the chiming of the kantele they play (note: kantele is both a singular and plural noun), the album’s all very bell-like and beautiful. There’s energy, make no mistake. Right out of the gate, listening to the lively first track, I decided this was very compatible with my rampageous affection for Quebec and Celtic trad. I was particularly amused to hear the singers break into something that sounded a lot like a turlutte, even–though I suppose they call it something else in Finnish! And I kept finding myself totally wanting to give them a podorythmie rhythm track, or maybe a bodhran.

I’m not a hundred percent convinced the album’s instrumentation is all kantele–I could have sworn I heard a bass or extra percussion in there every so often, but if there were any other instruments at all, they were scarce. Mostly, this album’s all about the women’s voices, and about the kantele they play. And I found it highly enjoyable. I’ll be exploring the rest of their work.

Kardemimmit live over at kardemimmit.fi, and you can find them on Facebook as well! If you like Finnish folk music and/or the kantele, or even just think you might, go give ’em a listen.

Quebecois Music

Album review: Ce monde ici-bas, by De Temps Antan

So as I’ve been gushing all over the place, this is the week that De Temps Antan release their brand new album, Ce monde ici-bas! And if you’ve read my post from earlier today, it should surprise you not in the slightest that yep, I very much like this album and I endorse its immediate purchase for anybody with any interest whatsoever in Quebecois traditional music.

Ce monde ici-bas

Ce monde ici-bas

This is DTA’s third album, and as often seems to be the case when a band reaches album #3, there’s a more mature, polished sound here. I can’t confirm this for sure yet because I haven’t seen credits for the disc, but on my first pass through I heard what sounded like several guest musicians. This stood out most clearly on the vocals–especially on track three, more on this–but I’m pretty sure I also heard some bass guitar and some extra fiddle in there as well. This took me to a musical place I’ve been to before when listening to La Bottine Souriante’s album J’ai jamais tant ri, the one where the DTA boys were all in La Bottine at the same time and so the album comes out sounding like DTA + a horn section. There’s no horn on this new album, but still, the overall size of the sound was close. This is not a bad thing in the slightest, but it was a bit startling when I’m used to hearing DTA all by themselves.

Track by track reactions behind the fold!

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Quebecois Music

Album review: Soyez heureux, by Galant, Tu Perds Ton Temps

Several of my Anglophone friends both online and off who’ve studied French have talked about French is the language of precision. I’ve seen this referenced online as well as a reason for why French gets used in diplomatic negotiations–because it is in fact much clearer than English when it comes to vocabulary. Newbie as I am in my French studies, even I can see this. So far I’m definitely finding that if I want to say a given thing in French, there’s pretty much going to be one and maybe two ways tops to say it.

I mention this because it rolls over into music as well. In music, though, precision is not just a matter of word choice; it’s also a matter of tempo, of rhythm, of melody and counter-melody and harmony. Mind you, suitably trained musicians can do this regardless of what language they speak or sing. My brother the rock drummer, I daresay, might tell you all about how precision is the life’s blood of a percussionist. But in my explorations of Quebecois traditional music, precision is absolutely one of the qualities I’m seeing shining forth. If you want to know why I admire the hell out of instrumentalists who can do podorythmie, it’s exactly because of that–the physical precision and coordination required to do that with any speed at all. And when you throw in the ability to sing at the same time, the precision becomes more than just physical. It becomes a defining factor of the music, and it’s a real big part of what sends me bouncing down the street singing turluttes at the top of my lungs, or seeing if I can in fact get my feet going while playing a reel on one of my flutes.

All of which leads me to the topic of this post: the brand new album by Galant, Tu Perds Ton Temps!

I’ve written before about how Quebec trad is a pretty male-heavy genre of music, and usually I am absolutely fine with that, given how much I’m enjoying all the various bands I follow. Galant, Tu Perds Ton Temps however go a long way to address this gender imbalance and I adore them. For one thing, it’s delightful to try to sing along with French lyrics sung in my actual range. For another, that precision thing? The women of Galant, Tu Perds Ton Temps have it in spades. I am in awe of how their five vocalists can interweave their voices. They may not be as roaringly powerful vocal-wise as the Charbonniers, my other favorite Quebecois a capella group–but every one of their songs is an exquisite, delicate work of musical art. (And when I say delicate, don’t let that make you think they lack energy! I assure you, they don’t!)

Their new album is called Soyez heureux (“Be happy”). It’s their third release, and now that they’ve reached album #3, it’s clear that they’ve gotten their style down and can now spend time polishing it until it shines. Being a newbie to French, I do suffer a considerable handicap in not being able to follow most of the lyrics–but I can tell that vocally and rhythmically, they’ve definitely kicked it up another notch or two from their previous albums. Moreover, from what I’ve read about the album, there is a concerted effort here to tell the stories of women in the various songs. What surprised me the most, too, was one article mentioning at least one song about a lesbian! Which makes me really want to dig into the lyrics and see if I can figure out which song has that story. Because that? That’s an awesome thing to see cropping up in folk music.

The digital booklet that came with the album does not include lyrics for every song, sadly, so I’m going to have to spend some time trying to translate what is there–which appears to be a broad overview of the five women whose stories the songs are telling. But in the meantime I can tell you that the addition of little interludes of violin between several of the tracks give the album an almost classical-sounding structure overall, and I suspect they’re serving as transitional markers between one woman and the next in the story flow.

I don’t know which woman in the group has which voice yet, but I particularly love the deeper voices in the harmony mix; whoever’s got the contralto has a gorgeous voice, in particular. Listen too for the rhythms laid down by their percussionist–that precision thing again! This being the only one of my main Quebec groups that includes a bodhran in their percussion as well as feet adds another unique layer to the band’s sound, and it’s a great rumbly low anchor to their high, sweet vocals.

And I can tell you as well that of the tracks available on the album, my favorites so far are “Laissez-moi faire” (+10 for any song with turlutte rhythms to it!), “Elle attent tout l’temps”, “Virons-la” (because mmmm turluttes in minor mmmmm), “La complainte de Ste-Marie” (for some haunting slow harmonies), “Le blues de la ménagère” (because of sweet waltz tempo), and “Louise et son soldat” (for OH HEY I can actually understand that title, so maybe I’ll be able to pick a story out of the lyrics!).

This album’s been released to US markets, so you can grab it from US iTunes or Amazon. Canadians can grab it from Canadian iTunes or a physical CD from Amazon CA. Archambault in Quebec has it right over here, and Renaud-Bray has it here.

The band can be found on both Facebook and Twitter, as well as at their official website. Go tell ’em bonjour, won’t you? And get their album!

Quebecois Music

Album review double-header: Celtic Fiddle Festival

Being the raving fangirl of Quebec music that I am, I’ve happily identified several skilled musicians who are now well and thoroughly in the category of “I want to purchase every single note these people EVER RECORD EVER”. And very high on this list is André Brunet!

I didn’t know it at the time, but I first discovered André when I saw La Bottine Souriante perform for the first time. And when I brought home the album Rock and Reel, one of the tracks I fell most strongly in love with was “Autumn Sky”–which I know now of course as “Ciel d’Automne”, one of his earlier compositions. These days, he’s one third of the fantastic trio De Temps Antan, who I’ll be scampering off to see perform in Canada in one more month! (Of which there WILL be extensive coverage, O Internets, and as many pictures as possible. With mammoths!)

But only in the last few weeks have I learned that he’s also a member of a quartet called Celtic Fiddle Ensemble. This group just dropped a brand new live album, Live in Brittany. This was reviewed by Hearth Music right over here, and on the strength of that review plus André Brunet, I snapped this album right up. In the process I actually wound up getting an older album of theirs as well, Équinoxe, because Loftus Music’s mail server kept mailing me confirmation mails over and over and they kindly offered me a complimentary CD for the trouble.

(And because the person I spoke with in email was so awesome about giving me that free CD, let me plug their site directly: they’re right over here! Seriously, go check them out and see if they’ve got something you’d like to buy!)

Anyway, survey says re: both albums: if you’re a fan of excellent fiddle, check these guys out. There’s masterful, expressive playing all over every single one of these tracks. You can definitely tell which tunes are Quebecois whenever André kicks in with the podorythmie, which of course pleases me immensely–but there’s plenty of goodness on the non-Quebecois tracks as well. And some of these tunes I actually recognize from hearing them played in session, which gives me, as a newbie session player, a particular little kick of pleasure.

Now, like it says on the tin, these guys specialize in fiddle. But their guitarist is by no means an afterthought. As I’ve come to learn in sessions, you don’t want more than a single guitar backing up the melody players–but this means that whoever’s on guitar has the responsibility to provide suitably skillful accompaniment. Rhythm and tempo must be maintained–and whatever chord line is getting hit, ideally, should be just as interesting to listen to as the melody. So that rhythm needs to not only support the melody, but sometimes provide counterpoint to it as well. And that’s not as easy as it sounds. I’ve tried it.

I was very happy to observe that the group’s guitarist, Nicolas Quémener, is absolutely up to the task of accompanying three master fiddlers. While André, Kevin Burke, and Christian Lemaître are over there laying down the law on their instruments, Nicolas lets fly with return fire on his guitar. You’d think that three fiddles versus one guitar wouldn’t be a fair fight–but with these gentlemen, you’d be wrong.

Équinoxe is an earlier album, dating back to 2008, while Live in Brittany is of course the brand new album. If you pick up both of them, listen to Équinoxe first, just because it’s fun to see how the group progresses from studio album to live concert album, and what happens as they get five more years’ experience between them. If you get just one, get Live in Brittany–but get one! Because wow, these guys can play.

Loftus has the live album right over here in both CD and MP3 form. Ditto for Équinoxe, here. You can find the older album on iTunes as well, and both are on Amazon, but honestly, since Loftus Music’s rep was so awesome to me–buy ’em straight from Loftus. You’ll be glad you did.