In review--Franco-American Vermont

Michèle Choinière
La Violette
Independent release (Franco-American folkloric)

I read the book The Town that Food Saved that focused on the food system of a village of 3,000 people, Hardwick, Vermont. The author of the book mentioned a community of French-Canadians that immigrated to Vermont to set up dairy farms during the early decades of the 20th century. While there are few French-Canadian dairy farms left in Vermont and many of the former Canadians assimilated into American (US) culture, a few diehards such as Michèle Choinière still exist. And what’s interesting about Choinière is that she collects music from Acadians, Quebecois, 20th century France and her own lineage in Vermont. She considers La Violette a dance album and sure enough, you’ll find waltzes and soiree (kitchen party) send-ups on the album.

While there isn't enough space in a CD review to delve into contrasts and comparisons between the Franco-Vermont music and Cajun music of Louisiana or traditional Quebecois fare, you’ll hear obvious connections such as a focus on waltzes (share with Cajuns), feet and spoons playing out enticing rhythms and hearty call and response vocals (Quebecois), which isn’t surprising since the Franco-Vermonters originally came from French-Canada.

Even of more importance is Choinière’s choice of songs which she collected, and her powerhouse voice that lends itself well to the Edith Piaf songs she covers on La Violette. In fact, she embodies Piaf and at times is a dead ringer for the late singer. She provides two versions of Padam, Padam—the first version features guitar and gypsy-style violin and the second her vocals are backed by Rachel Aucoin’s piano, which in itself conjures up a French cabaret atmosphere. On the Piaf song Tu es Partout the French gypsy violin returns. These aren’t the only two gems on an album filled with show stoppers.

Vive la rose features solo voice with beautiful inflections and sharp intonation. The lament sur le pont de Londres follows with its haunting and melancholic atmosphere. Aucoin’s piano contributes to the sadness with its solemn tones. But before too many tears are lost, the musicians perform a flirtatious French classic (from the 1920s) Brind’Amour. The accordion solo performed by Sabin Jacques alone has the ability to entice and with Choinière’s rousing vocals, irresistible. A rousing wedding song follows and we’re up on our feet dancing.

Listening to La Violette feels delightful, almost like a guiltless pleasure. I can hear why Choinière has chosen to preserve these songs and her heritage. I’m thankful that she has chosen to share it with us. (As I play this CD, the chickadees outside my window sing along). and


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