Browsing Tag

les charbonniers de l’enfer

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 in particular, since the site has it at import prices. You’ll get it much more cheaply from, here. (Note the slow delivery time. But also note that 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.

Quebecois Music

Quebec band recommendations, round 2: Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer!

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 (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!

Quebecois Music

A guide to Quebec trad for English speakers

Internets, as you all know, I’ve been happily fangirling Quebec traditional music for a couple of years now, and quite a few of you have started to ask me questions about it. And because I like you, Internets, and I want to share with you the musical goodness, I’d like to present for you a Guide to Quebecois Traditional Music for English Speakers!

Q: What is Quebecois traditional music?

A: A very close cousin of Irish/Celtic trad. If you’re a fan of Irish or Scottish music, you’ll probably find Quebec trad very compatible to your tastes; there’s a lot of overlap between the two genres.

Q: What makes Quebec trad differ from Irish/Celtic/Scottish/etc.?

A: Three main differences, which are:

  1. Podorythmie. With most Celtic bands the percussion will usually be handled by a bodhran player, who may double up on shakers or bones. There may or may not be an actual drumkit depending on how far into rock the band in question slants. With a Quebec trad band, though, the percussion is almost always handled by someone who does podorythmie, the rhythmic footwork that’s a big signature sound for the genre.
  2. Call and response. Quebec trad is very heavily structured around call and response, where you’ll have whoever’s singing lead echoed by the rest of the band. Relatedly, you’ll find a great number of Quebec trad songs structured in such a way that the first line of a verse will be called, then responded, and then the verse will finish up with a chorus and then a second line which will then roll over into being the first line of the next verse. (This is a very helpful song structure when you’re a newbie to French and you’re trying to figure out how to sing the words!)

    Now, sure, call and response isn’t unknown in Celtic trad in general–but I’ve seen it be a LOT more common in Quebec trad. It makes the songs highly participatory and that’s one of the big reasons I love singing along to the songs so much.

  3. Turluttes. You’ll find a lot of Quebec trad songs will have a turlutte section, sometimes small, sometimes dominant, and sometimes as the entire song. Turluttes are when you get a singer or group of singers vocalizing a melody that in other traditions might be played with instruments. You’ll also hear this referred to as mouth music or mouth reels, similar to puirt à beul or lilting.

    As the Wikipedia link I’ve pointed at in the previous paragraph calls out, turluttes are built out of a set of specific phonemes–a lot of t and d and l and m sounds. They’re almost always up-tempo and joyous and great, great fun.

    A truly splendid example of turluttes in action can be found sung by Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer right over here, with bonus podorythmie solo in the middle.

Q: How is Quebec music similar to Irish/Scottish/Celtic music?

A: Lots of Quebec trad will be familiar to Celtic music fans just because there’s a rich heritage of tunes, jigs/gigues, reels, etc. There are some fun musical and stylistic differences that instrumentalists will notice–particularly how many Quebec tunes are often played “crooked”, doing interesting things to time signatures and varying up the rhythm. If you’re an instrumentalist you’ll want to listen for that.

Likewise, a lot of the topics of the songs will be familiar to Celtic music fans. Alexander James Adams has been often quoted (in particular by me!) as saying that the three main categories of Celtic music are Whiskey, Sex, and Death. This is also true of Quebec music, although from what I’ve seen in Quebec music, it’s more like Wine, Sex, and Death, with a side helping of Religion. (I’ve noticed quite a few songs involving shenanigans that involve priests, for example. 😉 )

Q: Do I need to be able to speak French to appreciate Quebec trad?

A: No! Certainly no more than you need to be a Irish or Scots Gaelic speaker to appreciate Celtic music, anyway. I find that studying a little bit of French enough to let me get an idea of how Quebec trad lyrics go enhances my appreciation of the songs considerably, but you don’t have to go to the lengths I’m going. A lot of the most active bands in the genre post lyrics to their websites, often in both French and English, and even if they only post the French lyrics that’s enough for you to throw the words through a translation engine.

And there’s fun stuff to be found in the lyrics, too. Plus if you do that, you get to be one of the Anglophones in a Quebec trad concert who can start snickering at all the best bawdy bits of songs!

Also, turluttes are language-agnostic!

Q: Enough overview! Who are some bands or artists I can check out?

The ones I’m most fond of are La Bottine Souriante, La Volée d’Castors, Galant, tu perds ton temps, Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer, Genticorum, De Temps Antan, and especially Le Vent du Nord!

And if you have trouble telling all those names apart, I can direct to you to this handy flowchart I made for that exact problem!

Quebec Band Flowchart

Quebec Band Flowchart

For a nice crossover of Celtic and Quebec fiddle styles, I also highly recommend Celtic Fiddle Festival, who feature André Brunet of De Temps Antan. There are also a couple of excellent albums done by André Marchand and Grey Larsen, specifically on the theme of crossover between Irish and Quebec music, and I recommend those too. You can find them here.

I will update this FAQ with new data as I think of it. I did overviews on my favorite bands a while back but I’ll be posting new ones as well, since several of the bands in question dropped new albums since I originally wrote those posts.

Any questions I haven’t covered here? Shoot ’em at me!

Quebecois Music

And now, to solve an ongoing problem

My belovedest of Daras is at a bit of a loss when it comes to comprehending my rampageous affection for Quebecois traditional music. She doesn’t speak a lick of French, and so I could mention any one of the various bands I’m following, only to have their names just parse to her as “French sounds”. And it didn’t help matters much either when we went up to Harrison Hot Springs this past weekend–because two of the guys in De Temps Antan ARE brothers of guys in Le Vent du Nord, and the sets of brothers in question do look rather alike!

Several of you who read me on a regular basis won’t be having these problem, but in case you’re in the same boat Dara is and find yourself trying to figure out who all these people are I keep enthusiastically babbling about, here. I present for you this handy flowchart for how to tell apart my seven favorite Quebecois traditional bands!

Quebec Band Flowchart

Quebec Band Flowchart

Never let it be said that I am not helpful!


Une chose merveilleuse

On my way home tonight I was listening to tracks off the album À la grâce de Dieu by the Charbonniers, and in particular, the song “Allons vidons”. Jean-Claude Mirandette was just getting started on the first verse when I had that delightful double-take reaction of HEY HEY STOP I UNDERSTOOD THAT! I backed up, played that bit again, and sure enough, the sentence “C’est dans notre village / Il y a un p’tit moulin” popped right out at me. “In our village there is a little mill”. It’s a tiny sentence to be sure, but I was inordinately proud of comprehending it.

It’s weird and wonderful to hear a whole sentence in another language, only to understand it just like it’s the language I grew up with. I’m still getting bits and pieces of songs piecemeal, but that I’m getting them in general gives me ridiculous amounts of glee. My main goal is still musical, i.e., to be able to understand the lyrics of all these awesome songs and therefore appreciate them more. Anything I get out of it for conversational purposes is really icing on the cake.

But that said, I was also very pleased to be able to construct this whole sentence all by myself when posting to Facebook: “Je lire les paroles en anglais et français, j’écoute les chansons en français, je peu à peu comprends plus et plus!” Which means, “I read the lyrics in English and French, I listen to the songs in French, bit by bit I understand more and more!”

A good chunk of that sentence did in fact come to me either straight out of songs or else from poking around on band websites. “Les paroles” I know as “the lyrics” from looking at the French edition of “J’écoute”, “I listen”, I swiped right out of the lyrics to “Écris-moi”. “Chansons”, “songs”, is all over the place in all the songs in my collection. “Plus et plus” I got out of the lyrics to “Le dragon de Chimay”.

I’m still also heavily using Google Translate–but sometimes I only have to use it to doublecheck gender of nouns or verb conjugation spellings, because some of the words are starting to actually pop into my brain on my own and I just need to doublecheck them. As opposed to having no idea what the words actually are. Progress! I has it!

So yeah! Plan to learn all the Quebecois trad by slow osmosis: proceeding nicely. 😀

ETA: userinfodesperance, who is a wise and clever wordsmith apparently in more than one language, advises me that the proper first person singular conjugation for “lire” is “je lis”. This, children, is why you always ask for language help from people who either speak the language or who have studied it better than you have! Also, this is an extremely important verb for a writer and book geek to know!

Quebecois Music

Quebecois band recommendations: Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer!

The Charbonniers stand out very, VERY strongly against the rest of my Quebec boys on the grounds that they specialize in the two big things that I love the most about Quebecois traditional music: the mouth reels, and the podorythmie! They are entirely a cappella, and so this is ALL these guys do. It’s like they are a concentrated blast of French Canadian AWESOME.

We’ve got five gentlemen here, a bit on the older side but all with very, very strong voices. Their two (and they have TWO!) podorythmie guys, Michel Bordeleau and André Marchand, have the distinction of being former members of La Bottine Souriante–and Michel in particular has a distinctive enough voice that I’ve pegged him now on earlier La Bottine tracks. All five of the Charbonniers take turns singing lead, so all of them get a chance to show off the character of their voices, though.

I’m a big fan of M. Bordeleau’s footwork, but I’ve got to say that of the various gents’ voices, I’m favouring Jean-Claude Mirandette’s the most. He’s got a beautiful tenor voice that is shown off to great advantage on several of the tracks on their live album, which I’m about to get to now!

Hands down and no contest, their live album, En personne, is my favorite of their work. They’re good in the studio and I have several of their tracks on repeat play, but they are an order of magnitude more vigorous in the live album’s performance. I’ve been playing the hell (AHEH–you did translate their name, didn’t you?) out of this album for weeks now, and they’ve been leading the charge in getting me more interested in translating Quebecois French lyrics so that I can try to understand them myself, as proper words rather than ‘pretty noises the nice men are making’, and sing along.

Three very excellent live vids from this performance are up on the LinkTV site: “Yes Very Well” (see previous commentary re: M. Mirandette, who takes lead on this one, and also note M. Bordeleau on the left making with DANGEROUS footstomping), “Sur La Vignelon” (where I believe Monsieur Normand Miron is taking the lead on this, and he too has a very distinctive voice), and last but MOST DEFINITELY not least, “Les Turlutes”, where the boys tear right through one gigantic chain of turluttes. XD I’ve posted about this last vid before–look in particular for the podorythmie stomp-off in the middle!

All three of those songs are among my repeat plays off of En personne, but the Turlutes track is very, VERY high on the list just because of how much the Charbonniers are getting into the performance in that video. They’re clearly having such great fun that I cannot help but enjoy watching them–and you can see glimpses of the audience really getting into it too!

I’m given to understand that the physical CD of this concert comes with a DVD, and I plan to order this ASAP. The album IS available electronically on iTunes, but it’s not on Amazon MP3–and I’d recommend you order the CD anyway so that you can get the DVD too, if at all possible!

The rest of the Charbonniers’ discography does also appear to be available on iTunes, though. Most of the tracks on En personne come off the album called , and you can really tell, comparing them, how much more vigorous the live album is. So while that album certainly isn’t bad, if you wanted to get a studio Charbonniers album instead I’d recommend either À la grâce de Dieu or their most recent one, Nouvelles fréquentations. The more recent one is notable for having less of a trad emphasis; in fact, according to this link that went up on Facebook earlier today, it’s actually up for an award for Best Contempary for the 2011 Canadian Folk Music Awards! I like the other studio album better just because it has more of a trad bent, but this one’s good too; it very much reminded me of the Nylons, who y’all remember were the group that did that awesome a cappella version of “Kiss Him Goodbye” many years ago. Bonus LOLs on this album for having a French version of “In the Jailhouse Now”, which I know from the movie O Brother Where Art Thou?.

The Charbonniers’ site does NOT have links off to buy their albums that I can see, so if you want to order physical copies, your best bets are probably going to be or or