Friday, October 23, 2009

In review--Warmed by the Kitchen Fire

Le Vent Du Nord
La Part Du Feu
Borealis Records

Chuck and Albert
Independent release (Canada)

For those of us that reside in the northern hemisphere with emphasis on northern, it’s time to gather near the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate or cider in your hands. And for those of you suffering from cold toes, place some traditional Quebecois music in your player and get your feet tapping. Two new releases, La Part Due Feu (the fourth studio recording by Le Vent Du Nord) and the appropriately titled Ènergie (Chuck & Albert from Prince Edward Island) ought to do the trick.

I fell in love with traditional Quebecois music years ago and my collection has grown and I hope my knowledge of this music has grown as well. Le Vent Du Nord came to my attention during the summer of 2003 when an early incarnation of the quartet performed at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. Step dancing, fiddle, hurdy-gurdy, guitar and hearty vocals were par for the course.

The quartet’s repertoire hailed from historic Quebec, Brittany and other regions of France, filled with stories about love found and love lost. Nicolas Boulerice’s hurdy-gurdy added an extra edge with its drones playing alongside Olivier Demers’ violin and Benoit Bourque’s and Bernard Simard’s guitars, accordion—hearty call and response vocals all around.

Two incarnations later brings the release of La Part Du Feu, translated into English means “cut your losses” though not an apt title for this fabulously rousing disk. Again the musicians bring in a repertoire that hails from France and old Quebec. And a Celtic flavor drips off this recording, more so than the previous ones, especially on the obviously Irish track, Mamzelle Kennedy and yes, there is a story behind the song which the musicians include in the liner notes.

Le Vent du Nord has always played up a Celtic connection in its repertoire, but on this new release, tracks such as Montcalm mix American Dixiland with traditional Quebecois. The only other Quebecois ensemble that has brought in a horn section that I know of is La Bottine Souriante, who I believe Demers and Boulerice has performed with years ago.

Striking the right balance between instrumentals and lyric-driven songs and including re-interpretations of classics, one again this quartet delivers a hearty set of songs to warm bodies even without a fire burning in the hearth.

Further east on Prince Edward Island, the duo, Chuck and Albert Arsenault (a popular Quebecois surname), bring out their guitars, violins, jaw harp and kitchen gadgets as they launch into a kitchen party. Full of joie de vivre and a wacked sense of humor, the duo combines Scottish reels and French repertoire. Even those listeners not familiar with music from these northern reaches will recognize the old French classic, À la claire fontaine and the chicken reel tagged onto My Father’s Tunes. The musicians bring us a nice blend of haunting ballads such as The Fever (in which a young lumberjack meets his death far from home), and foot tappers, not to mention hip swaying numbers.

Unlike Le Vent Du Nord, Chuck and Albert have just been brought to my attention. According to the liner notes, their fans asked them to record their songs for posterity. And certainly with this rousing collection of French-Canadian tunes, here’s hoping that the songs make it outside the kitchen party scene and even travel as far south as Florida.