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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.

Quebecois Music

Album review: Enregistré Live, by Genticorum

And because I’ve managed to go more than five minutes around here without talking about Quebecois music, let’s correct that little problem, shall we? Because my boys of Genticorum have just put out a shiny brand new album, and if you have any interest in Quebecois trad whatsoever…. actually, chances are you already know about this album and you probably even heard about it before I did! But that said, if you’re one of my readers and you’ve seen me enthusing over Quebec trad and you want to check it out for the first time, you could do a hell of a lot worse than picking up Enregistré Live.

When it comes to Quebec trad, okay yeah, I gravitate to the powerhouse bands. Give me Le Vent du Nord and their hurdy-gurdy goodness, or La Bottine Souriante and the sheer unmitigated awesome of their entire horn section. Or the Charbonniers, who pull off the impressive feat of matching La Bottine in power with nothing more than five voices and ten feet. Genticorum is subtler and more deft than these groups in some ways, though, and not just because a flute being one of their primary instruments contributes a certain delicacy of style. This manifests as well in the swift, light podorythmie from fiddler Pascal Gemme, the nimble guitar from Yann Falquet, and the delivery of their vocals.

Did I mention this is Genticorum’s first live album? Since I’ve had the distinct pleasure of seeing them in concert, I was particularly excited about picking this album up. I wanted to see if it captured the energy of the concert I’d previously experienced, and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. The between-song intros are minimal, so if you don’t speak French, or if you have enough to follow song lyrics but not stage intros, there won’t be much to interrupt the music for you. (For me, though, I also quite enjoy trying to figure out what the boys are saying about the songs–it’s an excellent way to practice French if, like me, you’re learning!)

Because of course, the songs are the point of the album. There are a couple of tracks here that were familiar to me from the studio albums I’d bought, like the dextrous “La brunante”, where Alexandre de Groisbois-Garand shines on his flute. And the big closer, “La chasse”, is one of my repeat play tracks from their very first album; this is a particularly awesome one since the boys are in high form, and they get the audience going too. The very last track, presumably an encore, was also familiar to me–but because I’d encountered it before on a Galant, Tu Perds Ton Temps album! “La valse turluttée” worked very well by the Galant girls as a complex a capella piece, but it works splendidly here with Alexandre’s flute too.

Of the tracks I didn’t recognize going in, I particularly liked “La finno-gaspésienne”, another deft instrumental; “Déline”, featuring lovely vocals, and especially “La rouillette”, another vocal number, but one which gives each of the boys a chance to sing lead (and Pascal to delightfully milk the hell out of his turn), and which has fun overall structure as a song. (And you can find this one on YouTube! Clickie!)

The album’s not released in the States yet, so right now your options I’m aware of for getting your hands on it are Amazon US, Amazon CA, Archambault in Quebec, Reynaud-Bray in Quebec, and the Canada iTunes store.

But I’d strongly encourage you to keep an eye out on their website for further updates! Or follow them on Twitter or on Facebook. And tell them Anna sent you!

ETA: Bonjour, all you Genticorum fans! Gracious, a lot of you have found this post.

Quebecois Music

Album review: Errance, by Bon Debarras

I give an awful lot of fangirling time to Le Vent du Nord, De Temps Antan, and the Charbonniers, it’s true–but there is a lot more to be found in the genre of Quebecois trad, and I’ve got quite a few other groups represented in my collection at this point. One of these is Bon Débarras, who Dara and I had the pleasure of seeing perform at last year’s Festival du Bois. They are a very lively trio, melding American and Quebecois influences to form a distinct sound all their own. It’s very worth seeing them perform live, since Dominic Desrochers is an excellent dancer. But if you can’t pull off getting to a show, their albums are the next best thing!

Errance by Bon Debarras

Errance by Bon Debarras

Their second album Errance has just dropped, and I am delighted to report that I enjoyed the hell out of it. You’ll find those American influences I mentioned all over this album–things like using a washboard for percussion as much as they do the feet. Or their vocal style, which rings very familiar to my Midwest-bred ears despite the lyrics being in French; I hear a lot of echoes of country or bluegrass or rockabilly in their singing. Or the particular mix of instrumentation, particularly banjo and harmonica, which carries the same sort of echoes for me as the vocals.

Track-by-track reactions behind the fold!

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Quebecois Music

Tromper le Temps by Le Vent du Nord: A fangirly and footnoted album review!

How much do the gods of all music love me this month? This much: they have given unto me the shining present of the brand new Le Vent du Nord album, Tromper le Temps! Now, mind you, its official release date on CD is the 25th–but it’s shown up early on the iTunes and Amazon MP3 stores, and I could not resist the musical shininess. I will, however, also be buying the CD. Because this album? So awesome I am buying it twice! Now that I have it, though, I can present for you a review! And in honor of Le Vent du Nord’s native language, I now present to you the first paragraph of this review of this album, en français1 2!

Vous savez déjà, mes amis d’Internet, que j’ai une grande admiration3 pour Le Vent du Nord, le premier groupe à contester Great Big Sea pour mes affections! Il n’est donc pas surprenant que j’aime ce nouvel album. J’aime son esprit. J’aime ses souliers4. J’aime son énergie, son harmonie, et les histoires qui m’attendent dans les paroles. J’aime cet album tellement je vais l’acheter à deux reprises, sur iTunes et sur CD! Et je vous exhorte tous à l’acheter aussi, parce qu’il est beau et impressionnant!

(Okay, that’s about as much French as I can coherently manage in one blog post.5 The Too Long; Didn’t Read Because I Don’t Understand French version: buy this album, because it is a thing of beauty and the boys of Le Vent du Nord are awesome. Tell them I sent you!)

Full review, including song-by-song reactions, behind the fold!

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Quebecois Music

Album review: N2, by Norouet

Here’s something I’ve come to learn in my explorations of current Quebecois trad bands: Éric Beaudry is apparently in half of them, or at least so it seems! And given my rapidly growing respect for Monsieur Beaudry’s musical prowess, this is as far as I’m concerned all to the awesome.

I’ve found references to him being in four bands to date. La Bottine Souriante and De Temps Antan I’ve already found and fallen in love with, but M. Beaudry is also involved with the bands Norouet and Ni Sarpe Ni Branche. Those two groups aren’t as high profile as La Bottine and De Temps Antan, so their music is harder for us in the States to find–but happily, Norouet’s album N2 is on iTunes and CD Baby.

“Norouet”, or so the Googles inform me, is slang for a northwesterly gale. It’s an excellent word, very much capturing the energy of the band while falling delicately upon the ear. This seeming contradiction of a gale and delicacy captures my overall impression of N2 as an album, as well.

N2 slants heavily instrumental, with over half the tracks being entirely without vocals. This is not a bad thing, though initially I found it a bit odd that their overall (instrumental, at least) sound reminds me a lot more of Solas or Altan from Celtic/Irish music than other Quebecois bands that boast M. Beaudry among their members. The distinct lack of footwork on several of the tracks throws me off, since I’ve trained my ear to listen for that now!

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Quebecois Music

La Bottine Souriante album review!

I’ve been anticipating the new album by La Bottine Souriante for weeks now, and WOO! It’s finally out! The album’s called Appellation D’Origine Contrôlée, and I yoinked that thing right down from iTunes as soon as I saw it go up.

For my first exposure to the band’s current lineup, it performed splendidly. I had an undeniable initial “buh?” reaction to several of the tracks–because I have of course imprinted on a lot of the earlier La Bottine albums as my example of what they should sound like, and that’s not entirely fair to the newer members. Yes, vintage La Bottine is a POWERHOUSE OF AWESOME, and those are mighty large (smiling, aheh) boots to fill. I’m now quite prepared to state that the newer members are also awesome, but you have to go in with an open mind and open ear. Since there are so many new people in the lineup, the overall flavor and chemistry of the band is not the same, and so it’s necessary to judge the current lineup on their own merits and less on how much they sound like all the people that came before them (though I’m not discounting that, either).

On the whole I do quite like this album. After the first listen, I was a bit dubious. But after two more, I found it growing on me considerably. Granted, I was predisposed to like it anyway just because Éric Beaudry sings many of the songs–but on the other hand, his presence in the vocals was actually also kind of confusing to my ear! I’ve gotten used to hearing him as part of De Temps Antan as well as on his album with his brother Simon, so hearing him in this context is something I’m not quite used to yet.

There are two other gentlemen singing lead on the album as well, for whom I do not yet have names, and both of them did a fine job. The presence of so many backup singers makes for nice round vocals on many of the tracks.

Instrumentally, overall, the horns are sometimes more subdued than I might like–but again, a good chunk of that is coming out of my exposure to vintage La Bottine. When I cut back on that reaction and judge the blend of the horns with the rest of the instruments they’re playing with, I feel much better about them.

And now, track by track reactions!

Cette Bouteille-Là – I really like this one, which was the first of the free tracks the band was offering for download just before the album came out. This has an excellent blend of all the instruments and voices, and some jaunty energy to it. This is a great track for showing how the current membership of the band are inheriting from the older members.

Mon Père – Ah and here we have Éric Beaudry’s first lead song on the album! This has strong vocals in general, not only M. Beaudry’s, but also all the backup vocals. Some great deep vocals in the background, and all of the voices are set off nicely against the percussion. I particularly groove on M. Beaudry hitting his high notes in the background on the very last few bars of the song.

Reel à Roland – This is an instrumental, and starts off sounding fairly standard until the horns start coming in on the second iteration of the A part. Once the horns and piano build up, you start thinking, okay yeah, this is La Bottine Souriante.

Le Gourmand – Back to M. Beaudry on the lead vocals, which is always a good thing, though this is one of the songs on the album that kept making me think “wait wait this isn’t a De Temps Antan song”? Mais non, because there are horns here, and a lot more backup vocals! Also, M. Beaudry is rather more expressive on his vocals here than I’ve heard him be with De Temps Antan so far, possibly because he’s doing more lead singing here.

Chus Chatouilleux – Good strong punch from the horns to start this one up. I don’t know who’s singing here since I don’t know all of the current lineup of the band yet, but the singing’s good. It’s a bit weird for me though since whoever’s doing this singing has an accent similar to the lead singer over in Mes Aieux, so I’m once again having to remind myself that this is in fact a La Bottine Souriante album. When in doubt, listen for the horns.

André Alain en sol majeur – Another instrumental. It sounds like there’s a keyboard in here, which is another thing I’m not used to yet with the current La Bottine lineup. There’s a bridge in the middle with a keyboard solo, which gives this piece an almost jazzy feel. I find myself wishing that the horns were doing more than just backing up the keyboard, though; I really want to hear some trumpet love on the melody line.

Au Rang D’aimer – Back to Éric! A more plaintive ditty, this one, but nice full vocals.

Intsusadi – This is a good one! I don’t know what’s doing the main percussive line here–a steel drum? It’s a new sound for me in my La Bottine experience, regardless, and it makes this one the most interesting instrumental on the album for me.

Reel Calgary – While the previous was perhaps the most interesting instrumental, this one is nonetheless very appealing to me. Nice fiddle and footwork. As with track 3, the horns are pretty subdued–more than I might perhaps like. But on the other hand, they’re coming in at a good balance with the rest of the instruments and the overall somewhat wistful flavor of the piece.

On Va Barrer Les Portes – The other La Bottine singer I don’t know yet, but this is the same gent who sings lead on track 1. This song’s primarily vocal call-and-response, with just piano and footwork on the verses, until the horns and fiddle come in on a nice jaunty bridge. That bridge? That’s what I listen to La Bottine Souriante FOR.

Pèle-Mèle – One more Éric song! Good big fat bridge from the horns and keyboard.

Le Baillard – The album’s final track is one more instrumental, and a good long, strong one as well, layering in all the various instruments and letting them build power at a good pace. By the time you’re three minutes into the track, oh yeah, there’s excellent muscle to the horns here. And about halfway through, an excellent stomping bit! This one reassures me that while I may miss the powerhouse of awesome that was vintage La Bottine, modern La Bottine can bring it too.

Long story short, if you’re into Quebecois music or think you might want to be, yes, you should buy this album. I was delighted to see it go live on iTunes AND on the Amazon MP3 downloads store for purchase, which means it’s readily available to US customers. Their record label also has it available for purchase right over here!

Quebecois Music

Mes Aieux En Famille album review!

Since userinfoscrunchions was asking, and since she’s the person who pointed me at Mes Aieux to begin with, here’s my overall reaction to the album I bought in Vancouver, En Famille!

This is a bit of a switch from the rest of the Quebecois music I’ve been listening to. From what I’m learning, this group’s more about modern lyrics than trad ones, although their style is still trad-influenced. Wikipedia describes them as “neo-trad”, a specifically Quebecois sub-genre, and that’s a term I really rather like as it seems to encompass not only the Quebecois music I like to listen to, but also the Newfoundland music. It nicely captures the sense of music that’s a fusion of both traditional and rock.

Now, given that we are dealing with French lyrics here, I’m still at a disadvantage–and given that Mes Aieux’s site doesn’t have lyrics posted on it, I’m going to have to doublecheck the liner notes of this album to see if they’re included so I can try to translate them. I’m given to understand that a lot of Mes Aieux’s lyrical topics are focused on life in Montreal, and out of general interest in that, I’d like to know what they’re actually saying! For now, though, I’ll have to focus just on the overall flavor and style of the songs.

I very much like the first track, “Dégénération”, the track that userinfoscrunchions pointed me at on YouTube. The vocals and instrumentation are both very strong, and I also like the reel they kick into at the end! Fortunately also, this is one song someone’s already translated online, and yeah, this is a good example of Mes Aieux’s whole idea of modern themes, trad style of performance. Especially the part in the last verse about turning off the TV and going outside. 😉

The rest of the vocals all over the album have the distinction of including both female and male voices, which by itself gives Mes Aieux some distinction in my Quebecois collection of music so far. They’re also a bit larger a group, with seven strong, so they’ve got more vocalists to play with, and I do quite like some of the tricks they’re doing with layering lead and backup voices.

They do also have more instruments to play with. I hear horns, electric guitar, and a drum kit in there, as well as fiddle and flute, so we’ve got a modern and trad blend of instrumentation, too. Stylistically they’re definitely more rock than trad, though this is not a bad thing. I definitely like the horn section rocking out on track 6, though all the electric guitar and drum kit work is taking me a bit aback, since my ear is geared these days to acoustic instruments!

As I’ve said, I have no French to speak of (aside from a tiny assortment of nouns and pronouns and the occasional verb and preposition), so I have no earthly idea about any local differences in Quebecois pronunciation–but that said, the primary singers in Mes Aieux seem to be pronouncing things more crisply and distinctly than most of the singers on my various other albums. I don’t know if this is a question of individual singing style, or a question of dialect; either way, it’s another interesting data point for me, and one which I hope to learn more about if I get an opportunity to properly learn Quebecois French.

I’m not a hundred percent sure about this, but I’m hearing only minimal podorythmie on this album, if there’s any at all; most of the percussion I’m hearing is more standard rock percussion. There are, however, occasional bits of tracks where I’m hearing something that might be footwork. If that’s what it is, it’s much less emphasized than it is in the more trad-oriented groups. This doesn’t surprise me much, given that Mes Aieux is more rock. It’s a bit weird, though, not hearing the footwork in conjunction with lyrics sung in French!

Some more specific track reactions:

I’m really liking the vocals on track 7, “La Grande Déclaration”. It’s a quieter track, and although I have not an earthly what they’re singing about, the vocals are really nice, and there’s some good fiddle and guitar (both electric and acoustic, it sounds like) and piano here.

Interesting growly-talky delivery of lyrics on the verses on track 8, too; it’s almost rap-like, but not quite there, since it’s still a bit too melodic for that. It’s good, though, and I’m respecting whichever singer in the group this is. (Whoa wait, there are English lyrics in this song! Surprise!)

I totally need the lyrics to track 9 on here, which I am given to understand is about poutine. HA!

Track 10 is pretty cool, with fun delivery of lyrics and some good fiddle and horn. And ooh, is that a harmonica in there?

Liking track 11, too–in no small part because the band’s female vocalist is getting some lead time here. Awesome.

All in all, the album’s not necessarily grabbing me right out of the gate like the more trad bands do. But that said, I’m definitely enjoying it and will probably get more of Mes Aieux’s music, probably their most recent album. Thanks, userinfoscrunchions, for recommending them!