[13 November 2008]
Upon reviewing Le Vent du Nord’s Dans Les Airs earlier this year, the differences between that band and other Québécois folk groups became clear. Take La Bottine Souriante, for instance. Where the members of Le Vent du Nord appear nearly formal in their calm assurance, the members of La Bottine leap up vividly and grab and clutch songs in its fists.
On La Bibournoise, Genticorum falls somewhere between the two. It doesn’t aim for Le Vent’s calm, and it doesn’t aim for La Bottine’s stomp. Fetterless gusto is not this trio’s goal nor is perfection. These three men have a sound close to the way English folk music often sounds: the tone of an average person, looking you in the eye, holding an easygoing but deeply-felt conversation through the medium of a fiddle or a lyric. “Here I am,” it says. “I have no makeup, no bling. My nails are clean; take me as you find me.”
This means La Bibournoise doesn’t seem immediately exciting. It opens with tapping feet and a guitar, followed by a wooden flute—lively but humble noises. Although the wooden flute is an instrument you don’t regularly hear in Quebec folk, it classifies as less noisy and self-assured than the fiddle and the foot-tap; it sits in the music like a soft little question. French-Canadian music is Celtic at heart, without the injection of Africa that gives a different character to Cajun, the other French-North American hybrid. A lightness exists here not found as much in Cajun music, a floating airiness: more sky, less grit. In “Le Moine Blanc” the fiddle slips forward then teasingly spirals back again like a piece of clockwork.
Overall, Genticorum builds its excellent compositions with layers of measure and clarity. While some tracks are adaptations of old songs, others are new. Initially composed in celebration of a respected French-Canadian folk fiddler and a step-dancer, “Hommage à André Alain—La Gigue à Pierre Chartrand” tests the musicians’ subtlety. Songs written in honour of friends or colleagues straddle a narrow line: Move your audience without overwhelming them with syrup. It’s the difference between writing teen-pain poetry and writing the kind of poetry people who are not your best friend actually enjoy. “Hommage” sets up the fiddle as a kind of drone instrument while the guitar takes over and skips nimbly up and down. These instruments swap places and then come together, plaiting in and out. Halfway through they segue into the gigue part of the song. (‘Gigue’ being the sound of the French borrowing both the name and the tune of the British jig.) A neat, tight tune.
An atmosphere of friendliness resonates throughout the album, shining especially on the title song, with its cheerful, catchy, and chiming half-nonsense lyrics and out of storytelling on “Le Moine Blanc” and “Les Culottes de V’lour”. In the former, a group of monks discovers one of their number has a secret girlfriend. The latter tells the story of a cuckold who gets drunk after stealing his wife’s lover’s velvet pants and the money inside. Although La Bibournoise probably won’t dazzle you straight away, the album has real warmth and rewards with repeated listens.