September 17, 2014 Album Review: Les vents qui ventent. “To say that the second album from Québécois power-trio Le Bruit Court Dans La Ville (loosely translates as “The Word Around Town”) has been a long-anticipated event is a bit of an understatement. The truth is that the first album from these three master artists (released 17 years ago) was one of the best albums ever made of traditional Québécois music, and the long wait between albums has had a lot of traditionalists chomping at the bit. The brand-new album, Les vents qui ventent (The Winds that Blow) finds the trio returning to their vast knowledge of Québécois roots music with aplomb, so finally we have something to celebrate!
On the one hand, this is a trio of artists who helped define Québécois traditional music for their generation. Lisa Ornstein, though American-born, first came to the tradition from her studies with backwoods fiddle icon Louis ‘Pitou’ Boudreault and was an early member of La Bottine Souriante, the group most responsible for kickstarting a revival of Québécois folk music in the late ’70s and early ’80s. More than that, she’s a tune hunter, the rare kind of fiddler who sifts through all the many tunes she’s learned at the feet of tradition bearers and pulls forth great gems that excite the imagination of her many followers. That’s what she brought to La Bottine Souriante in the early days: rough-hewn tunes so beautiful that they went on to become iconic in the new traditions that band was laying. Her bandmate back in the day, guitarist and vocalist André Marchand, who left La Bottine in the ’80s when the group turned towards brass band instrumentation and huge arena shows, partners beautifully again with her in Le Bruit Court Dans La Ville.
As a guitarist, Marchand basically defined how to accompany Québécois music. Drawing from inspirations like Montreal jazz and Irish guitar, his playing is never overstated and always brings out new life and ideas from the music. Marchand’s vocals have a soft stateliness to them that I always felt was the perfect counter to the rowdier songs from Yves Lambert in La Bottine Souriante. Here, in Le Bruit Court Dans La Ville, accordionist and singer Normand Miron brings the earthier traditions of Québécois song as a counterpoint to Marchand. Miron is a marvelous singer and accordionist, fully steeped in the traditions from his home village of Ste-Mélanie in the heartland of Québécois music: Lanaudière. Miron has an irrepressible spirit on stage, in person, and even in studio, so full of life and joy that it’s impossible not to get swept along. Together, Marchand and Miron have a long history together, from their work in the amazing vocal group Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer, to their all-male goodtime band Les Mononcles. They compliment each other so well, Marchand with his meticulous accompaniment and gorgeous vocals, and Miron with his pulsing accordion and his deeply human perspective as a traditional singer.
On the other hand, despite all of their individual pedigrees, the joy of Le Bruit Court Dans La Ville is in the music these three craft together. Ornstein is a marvelous arranger, and her fiddling – often with a deeply detuned fiddle – for each song is a wondrous thing. Listen to “Le Depart du Canada,” a chilling song taken from the repertoire of the notorious fiddler/singer/fighter Joseph Athanase Larade from Chéticamp in Cape Breton. The song tells of the initial hopefulness of emigration, as a young French-Canadian leaves for a better life in America against the warnings of his friends (“You’ll meet with misery in the States, so don’t go” his friends say). Arrived in America he finds crushing defeat and endless work. Finally returning to Canada, all familiar traces of his home have been obliterated. It’s one of the hardest songs about immigration and exile and it perfectly captures the feeling of being caught between two worlds without a life to live in either. I watched Le Bruit Court Dans La Ville perform this song at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes some years ago on a 4th of July and the song was interrupted by the boom of fireworks from outside. Some people were pissed that the timing of the show was off and their song was interrupted, but Normand Miron sang on throughout the fireworks and it became one of the most moving statements I’ve ever seen in traditional music. This song eviscerates the American dream from the point of view of a lost immigrant, and to hear it in the middle of booming American patriotism was a powerful thing. We’re all into this music because we feel these lost words still have something to say, even if it’s not in our own language. Sometimes it takes the wisdom of three masters to make these words ring again.”— Devon Leger
“These musicians are responsible in no small way for my continuing admiration and love for the wonderful music and traditional culture from the beautiful province of Quebec. Lisa, Andre and Norman are fantastic musicians and audiences cannot fail to be both charmed and entertained by them.”– Kevin Burke
“Lisa has power, intonation, a bowing arm that crackles with energy, yet conveys amazing nuances, a wonderful ear for phrasing and rhythm, and a sharp musical wit. The strength of this trio lies in the collaboration between these three old musical compatriots. Normand Miron and André Marchand are both from the Joliette area, a region famed for its traditional music. They are both strong, passionate singers, and superb players. The combination is amazing.”– Fiddler Magazine
March 30, 2015 Album Review: Les vents qui ventent. “Let’s talk about Les Vents Qui Ventent, the second album from the trioLe Bruit Court Dans La Ville, a great collection of French-Canadian folk music played by a seasoned trio. André Marchand has for a long time been a godfather figure in Québec folk music, as a founder of the province’s most successful folk band (La Bottine Souriante), as well as a producer, organizer, arranger, engineer, and (of course) singer and guitarist on hundreds of projects. Lisa Ornstein, the band’s token American, was an old-time fiddler before apprenticing with Louis ‘Pitou’ Boudreault and becoming adept at Québec fiddling; along the way she’s become a masterful arranger as well. Normand Miron learned songs, accordion tunes, and great harmonica style in his home region of Lanaudière, considered the taproot of Québec music. Together and separately, they have helped to define Québec folk music for their generation and for the youngsters who have followed them.
Their approach is now standard for Québec bands: take some repertoire that is purely local, songs you learned from your family or from neighbors. Do research in archival collections for other unusual tunes and songs. Write a few pieces yourself. Then sit down and arrange and play them, using ideas from Québec’s root traditions, from the folk revival, from Irish music, and from your own brain. If your brains are as fertile, your chops as impressive, your research skills as sharp, and your neighbors as cool as these folks’, you can end up with something pretty special. Les Vents Qui Ventent features French ballads, fiddle and accordion tunes, and beautifully sung “turluttes,” or mouth music, all tied together by one of the iconic sounds of Québec: André Marchand’s tapping feet. Standout pieces include the opener, a song about a sorceress who seduces the king’s daughter’s beloved; “Le Coucou,” a comic song about a husband’s revenge on his cheating wife; and “Le Départ du Canada,” a genuinely moving Acadian song about the horrors endured by Canadians who move to the U.S. (It doesn’t mention health insurance!).
Two of the best tracks really highlight the Irish connections. “Marie Roret” is a lovely French-language pastoral that seems to have originated as a French translation of the popular Anglo-Irish song “Seventeen Come Sunday.” It’s interwoven on the album with an Acadian lilt, which, when layered with the song’s lyrics, lends it an almost medieval feeling–a great example of the band’s innovative arranging. “The Foxhunter’s Jig/L’Arachouidine” is a rousing set of two fiddle tunes; the first came to Québec from Ireland, while the second is an adaptation of the first from the Gaspé Peninsula. Amusingly, the tune title the band heard as “L’Arachouidine” turned out to be their source’s attempt to say “The Irish Wedding.”