Marianne Bel

20151213 Marianne Bel Artwork2To say that Marianne Bel’s 2013 debut “Le balcon” was one of that years most impressive debuts is perhaps an understatement. Here was an album that revelled in the artist’s love of jazz, country, folklorico, simmering ballads and toe-tapping pop songs. And now she has followed-up with a six-track EP “Lumière” which while perhaps following a gentler country-folk chemin (with just a hint of those Latin influences so apparent on her earlier album) is another fine collection of songs – stories – that are strongly influenced by Marianne’s affinity with both nature and her cultural – folklorique – roots and which once again highlights the poetic lyricism and soothing compositional skills of this enchanting chanteuse…

It’s an EP full of beguiling and enchanting tunes – “Notre chant d’amour” – an achingly beautiful love song that is as delicate as the ‘soft wind in the midday sun’ and which speaks of those telepathic bonds that binds lovers together; of two who are at one. The song is inspired by Trova – one of the great roots of Cuban music, rich in poetic texts. With “Notre chant d’amour” Marianne captures the essence of Trova; “…Notre chant d’amour est plus long que le temps qu’il faut pour parler d’avenir, Plus long que l’écho qui remplit le silence sans le détruire…” / “…Our love song is longer than the time it takes to talk about the future, Longer than the echo that fills the silence yet without destroying it…”. There’s “Mississippi” – a song – like the mighty river itself – no longer meandering but surging out into the Gulf of Mexico. The river seems to act as a metaphor for love – whatever course the river takes, the timeless ebb and flow of the waves on the shore – this love will endure and grow.

But it is perhaps “Les Pitounes” and “Violeta” that demonstrate that there is no limit to Marianne’s imaginative prose. “Les Pitounes” illustrates Marianne’s keen eye for detail, addressing twin themes of La Drave or the ‘driving’ of felled logs down the great waterways of Québec to the mills and the fight by women in their strive for equality. The ‘pitoune’ of the song’s title is both an (often) disparaging Québecois term for women as well as the name given to a felled log ready to be floated to the mill. The song is also inspired by the film “La Source des femmes” and a story that focuses on the women of a remote village who go on a sex strike to protest against having to fetch water from a distant well. There’s a deceptive simplicity and clarity to the song; the accompanying acoustic guitar not only adds a lilting folk-tinged air but also immediately disarms; the voice of Nicolas Pellerin adds warmth and added depth to the chorus. However, it’s the poetic nature of the lyrics and the vivid imagery of the story they convey that identifies Marianne as a truly exceptional lyricist. The song is – unsurprisingly – written through female eyes – a young girl who refuses to be constrained and conform to the norms of society; “…Moi je le sais depuis des lunes, je veux voyager comme le bois rond, Je ne veux pas attendre la fortune, je veux travailler avec les garçons…” / “…I know for many moons, I want to travel as the logs, I do not want to wait for fortune, I want to work with the boys…” And yes, the women of the village – perhaps ennobled by this young girl – present their menfolk an ultimatum…

“Violeta” is actually my favourite track. A song inspired by the Chilean composer, songwriter and folklorist Violeta Parra, and artist who was inspired by the traditional folk music of the indigenous population and gave their music a voice. The song is a homage to beliefs of this Chilean artist – a crackly archived documentary in Violeta’s native Spanish fades to Marianne’s tell-tale strumming and the most plaintive of double bass – exploring the chasm that exists today between the indigenous and non-indigenous population of her native Québec. The lyrics paints a vast canvas, one as expansive as the river that shaped once unspoilt lands and where the indigenous people learned to live in harmony with nature – before settlers arrived to cut and scar the landscape. There’s an analogy to man’s rape of natural resources. The use of violin – in a jaunty celtic reel – hints at the arrival of the settlers from the East and the subsequent exploitation of the land… Violeta Parra’s “Arriba quemando el sol” – and whose opening verse Marianne closes “Violeta” – reflected on the impact of the mines on the landscape but not just on the indigenous population but also the conditions faced by the miners – many themselves natives – as they toiled under the burning sky. Through her lyrics Marianne explores themes of in our time-poor society we all risk losing those connection with our roots; “…Je suis ceux qui oublient après avoir trop bu, Je suis le lendemain et je ne me souviens plus…” / “…I am those who forget after having drunk too much, I am the next day and I do not remember anymore…”

I wrote recently of the haunting vocals and poetic lyricism of Maude Audet and while Marianne’s voice perhaps doesn’t convey as a wide an emotional range, there’s a magnetic quality to her soothing tones, it’s no exaggeration to suggest that Marianne Bel’s story-telling deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.

Maude Audet

201511126 Maude Audet Artwork2Maude Audet’s (she was just known as Maude back then) debut album “Le Temps Inventé” made one of our year-lists back in 2013 and now a couple of years later she’s back with her follow-up, “Nous sommes le feu” and while the album that doesn’t steer that far from the sweet folk-tinged pop of its predecessor, the poetic storytelling of Maude’s lyrics bring each song vividly to life.

In part the album revisits some of the themes of love and hope which were explored on her debut, the most obvious examples being “Je serai nacelle” and “Contre ton corps on se sent moins vieux.” The former is moving and heartfelt, the acoustic accompaniment the perfect accompaniment la tendresse – the lyrics convey, especially in the way the song’s mood totally changes during the uplifting and reassuring chorus – “…Je suis là, Avec toi, Je te prends, Dans mes bras…” as she deftly holds the note on each of the last syllables… “Contre ton corps on se sent moins vieux” explores the concept that love – like a fine wine – improves with age as she confesses “…Contre ton corps on se sent moins vieux, Nue sur ta peau tout semble mieux..” It’s a beautiful song that touches on sentiments similar to those of Les sœurs Boulay’s “Maison” from their album “4488 de l’Amour.”

But there’s also social dimensions that Maude is not afraid to tackle. “On leur demande” sees her address war crime that is the forced ‘recruitment’ of child soldiers in conflict-zones. Starting out like an acoustic version of a rock number, Maude expresses her disgust as the middle-eight cranks-up a reverbed cacophony of guitars. She also takes aim at the policies of austerity with the up-tempo “Troubles-fête.” Again there’s glorious chord progressions and refrains aplenty on a song that contains more than enough to keep mind and body occupied.

And then there’s also the way in which Maude uses cello sparingly to add texture and depth. On “Nous sommes le feu” the strings adds a touch of gravitas and reflection. The song itself is one of those seemingly effortless numbers which meanders along quite serenely, all the while reflecting that mankind’s actions le feu” are often destructive, when channeled as a force for good there will always be hope – the hungry bellies of the starving will be replaced by smiling children and the sweet taste of a lover’s kiss.

Nous sommes le feu” is an album full of timeless songs which are illuminated by Maude’s magnificent storytelling, the end result is an œuvre of delightful folk-tinged pop.

Héra Ménard

20151106 Héra Ménard Artwork1Québec City’s Héra Ménard is another talented auteur-compositeur-interprète from la belle province. Winner of the 2013 edition of Le Festival le Tremplin de Dégelis (joining a long and distinguished list of winners that include a certain Klô Pelgag), she released her debut EP “Et si…”

The EP’s opening and title track is delightfully up-tempo and merrily bounces along. At first Héra’s confident and bubbly vocals intertwine with just ukulele and guitar, but before long piano, percussion and even the plucked strings of a mandolin are added to the mix. The vocals are multi-tracked into the most perfect of soaring refrain. In fact Héra’s crystalline vocals also feature prominently on the foot-tappingly upbeat “Le vide.” There’s a similar bouncing refrain and nice choral touches – but lest you get the impression that Héra only has one string to her bow – there’s a sudden softening of mood and change of pace as the song draws to a close. Indeed, live – en session – with just a slight change of emphasis and vocal inflection sees the song takes on a slightly melancholic tinge, as the video below demonstrates.

The country-tinged “Je pense encore à toi” and the melodic folk-pop of “Les dernières heures” are achingly beautiful songs. Both demonstrate the softness and soulfulness of Héra’s ethereal vocals, while the addition of violin, low whistle and accordion add a haunting Celtic air to “Les dernières heures.”

There’s even something in Héra’s disarmingly engaging voice that makes the English language closing number “Lullaby” such a heartwarming and captivating song. Again accompanied by just the ukulele, Hèra suggests seductively that since there is no where else for her lover to go, staying with her tonight is the only thing to do.

Québec seems to produce more than its fair share of country-folk artists, so standing out from the crowd can be a challenge. With “Et si…”, Héra Ménard suggests she has more than enough strings to her bow to make a mark.

Téléphone Tribute

‘Ça (C’est vraiment nous)’ is a tribute to French rock royalty Téléphone, France’s answer to the Rolling Stones that peaked in the late seventies and sported J-L Aubert and Louis Bertignac among their members. Tribute-artists are Olivia Ruiz, Joyce Jonathan, Mademoiselle K and Plastiscines, Spotify link HERE
Heaviest track is this version by ZAZ


Barbara Carlotti sings Bardot

Mark Sullivan writes:

Carlotti covers a song by Brigitte Bardot? Stranger things have happened. It’s the title song of the 1971 film ‘Boulevard du Rhum’ in a new arrangement by Fred Pallem, French big band jazz composer-arranger with Le Sacre du Tympan.
The music for the film, about a French silent screen actress encountering the profiteers of US Prohibition in the 1920s, was written by the film composer François de Roubaix. The album has new interpretations of the music of de Roubaix (1939-1975), who was killed in a diving accident in the Canaries. ‘Boulevard du rhum’ (lyrics by Pierre Pelegri and Robert Enrico) was a good vehicle for BB, perhaps the last major track she recorded.

Bardot’s version from the movie:

Barbara Carlotti is the best-known singer on a mainly instrumental album of de Roubaix’s film music. It’s available on Soundcloud here

Do try this great duet from the same album as well:

Les sœurs Boulay

20151018 Les sœurs Boulay Artwork2I may have championed the oh-so note-perfect harmonies of Gaspésie’s Mélanie and Stéphanie Boulay once or twice (here, here and er here) and so was eagerly looking forward to the release of the sisters’ follow up to their award-winning debut “Les poids des confettis”, “4488 de l’Amour”.

The sisters had already teased us with “Fais-moi un show de boucane”, which hinted at a more expansive and band orientated sound. While those majestic vocal harmonies still shone through, there was a defined rock-edge; solid percussion and electric guitars which marked a departure from the girls’ gentle country-folk melodies. This was by contrast is bold, brash and incredibly sexy…

Actually in the context of the album the song is arguably a bit of a departure. The opening track is in a similar vein to those of their debut. Once again “Les couteaux beurre” features the sister’s silky vocals. Even the haunting whistling is as harmonious and pitch perfect as their voices. But as the Sisters launch into the song’s sweet chorus with its catchy melody you get the first inkling of the aural richness and warmth of this album’s sound. Here the sound is far more expansive – electric guitars, drums, percussion, bass synths – even a Kalimba and butter knife(!) – and trombone; all add texture and depth to a song that revisits familiar grounds – their childhood home and memories that can be wrapped around them like a well-worn but comforting shawl.

Listening to the album it becomes obvious how much the sisters have matured as songwriters; these are still songs about love, boys, voyages and experiences. The songs are still very-much autobiographical, but while there may still be a broken heart or two, these are no longer songs written by two shy, young girls from Gaspé.

Boys feature quite prominently in the sisters’ compositions. “Gab des Îles” features a boy and his truck. It’s a simple melody, initially subdued and reflective – yet as percussion drums and piano are layered onto the sisters’ by now trademarked harmonies – you realise this is a song of naked desire and intimacy. “Andaman Islands” harks back to a holiday romance – as well as the intimate style of “Les poids des confettis” and the perfect symmetry of Mélanie and Stéphanie’s vocals, just accompanied by guitar and ukulele – and again the theme is one of lust and desire, cleverly captured in the song’s lyric’s; “Ce qu’on a vécu, nous deux, Ça se prend take out…” (“What we’ve experienced between us, We’ll get take-out…”) “Alexandre” is a song about eternal love and everlasting friendship, built on a lilting folk-tinged melody and angelic, ephemeral harmonies.

However I doubt you’ll hear a more touching love song this year than “Maison” – it’s a song that perfectly encapsulates Les sœurs Boulay – a deceptively simple yet totally enchanting melody married to their angelic harmonious vocals, apparently pulled-off so effortlessly – while the lyrics implore “Veux-tu y vieillir avec moi?” (“Do you want to grow old with me there?”) – honestly, who could refuse such a request?

Travel features on the Stéphane Lafleur composed “Jus de boussole”. Country-tinged but Latin-infused – thanks in no small part to the Mariachi-inspired brass and the güiro-lead percussion – the song features a timeless melody and aching vocals which evoke memories of simpler times.

“Prière” is perhaps the most delicate and melancholic song on the album. The song is another link to themes that their debut album touched upon. Here, Stéphanie’s piano accompaniment adds to the air of insecurity as she waits to see if her prayers will be answered…

It’s a sign of the growing maturity of the sisters’ songwriting skills that they’ve tackled social issues; “De la noirceur naît la beauté” is intensely dark and moving, sung almost a cappella, save for haunting synths which accentuate the somber mood portrayed; “Langue de bois” is probably the sisters’ acerbic output to date and a comment on the enforced austerity and growing financial disparity – There’s clever use of English (whom I suspect are the target of the sisters’ scorn). The song’s gentle folk rhythms are augmented by Trombone – which arguably sets the song’s tempo throughout – and a rock-pop chorus that again highlights their truly majestic voices.

The sisters again let-off steam with “Sonne-décrisse” as they rally against meaningless small-talk and mealy mouthed platitudes. The uptempo folk-tinged melody and forthright confident vocals are intended to challenge the status-quo, but while the lyrics suggest a hint of doubt, you know that these confident young women will overcome whatever uncertainty they encounter.

The album’s title track encapsulates all those intensely personal moments that make a house – the fictional address of “4488 de l’Amour” – into a home. It’s a truly effortless folk-tinged song that pair seem to be able to crank-out at the turn of a wheel and which also touches upon those enduring bonds of friendship and love. Nice touches involving flute and organ makes this whimsical song so difficult not to fall hopelessly in love with. And whimsical could be used to describe the closing number, “T’es ben mieux d’les ouvrir tes yeux” which neatly closes the album on a lighter, upbeat note and which leaves us not only wanting to hear but also join the sisters on their road-trip to the Val-d’Or. Infectious whistling and bright trumpet add to mood of joyfulness as the sisters’ dulcet vocals fade for the final time – that is until you hit the ‘repeat’ button…

“4488 de l’Amour” is another chapter of Mélanie and Stéphanie Boulay musical journey. Surrounding themselves with some old friends – Philippe B is again behind the controls while Manuel Gasse and the aforementioned Stéphane Lafleur lend a hand with both words and music – the album see the sisters emerge as mature, cosmopolitain auteure-compositrice-interprète. However, despite the fact that over the past couple of years the sisters have made a considerable impression in the Francophone community worldwide, they remain true to their Gaspé Peninsula roots, continuing to write and express themselves in their native Québécois-French (even if this does make grasping the nuances of their lyrics somewhat difficult – seriously does someone do a really good English – French-Canadian dictionary / thesaurus?) The end result is an album of vignettes of love, life, travels and astute social commentary.

“4488 de l’Amour” is an album wrapped in an expansive but warming sound which sees Les sœurs Boulay expand their musical horizons without ever losing touch of their musical identity…

Album of the Year / Disque de l’Année

Alma Forrer

New kid on the block, who sounds like Barbara and Francoise Hardy, which is nice:

This is her second EP.
This is a very nice duet:

More? HERE

Rosie Valland

20151012 Rosie Valland Artwork2I’ve got a soft-spot for Rosie Valland, an incredibly talented auteure-compositrice-interprète from – yes – Québec. I’ve already raved about her here and it is safe to say that her debut album “Partir avant” is one of two that I’ve been eagerly anticipating (you’ll have to wait just a little while longer for the other one…)

“Partir avant” is an album born out of break-up and heartache; of conversations that never took place. The nine songs on this stunning debut album are wrought with emotion. There’s an overwhelming air of melancholy – themes of distress and shattered dreams abound – the atmosphere is sombre; this is a dark journey that Rosie has undertaken. But it is also incredibly cathartic, there is hope and salvation. You know that Rosie has emerged stronger from this…

The album opens with the magnificent “Oublier”, a song that oozes sadness and painted with the same monochrome palette as her debut EP, the song vividly captures that moment the flames of love are extinguished.

“Noyer” and the album’s title track similarly touch on the aftermath of breaking-up, however the latter is noticeably more upbeat – driven by a hypnotic percussive beat and multi-tracked vocals, it’s arguably reflects on looking forward, rather than back – a topic revisited on the album’s closing track, “Finalement”, which not only offers closure but hints at revenge.

“Rebound”, “Quebec City” and “St-Denis” are all songs that caution love on the rebound. The former wrought with both regret and anger, highlighted by touches of brass that not only add an extra depth but also tension. Meanwhile “Quebec City” is claustrophobically dark, the grunginess amplifies the feeling of menace as it warns of stumbling out of one relationship into the outwardly inviting arms of another. “St-Denis” on the other-hand is more up-beat, lighter in texture and tone – almost summery – but you still get the feeling that Rosie longs to escape the city…

“Olympe” is perhaps the most obvious example of a radio-friendly pop-song; while the mood is still one tinged with emotion, the mood is lighter. The edginess in the voice has been replaced by a more soothing mellowness while synths and electric guitar help create a rich and easily recognisable pop-like sound. The soaring refrain and catchy hook suggest that Rosie Valland is more than capable of turning out intelligent adult-themed pop songs – if she so chooses. However, it is the utterly compelling “Nucléaire” that is my favourite song on the album. Haunting synths and reverbed guitar couple with arguably Rosie’s finest vocal performance, at one fragile, tinged with regret, yet at the same time forceful. Somehow a song about the Le fin du monde never sounded so serene…

“Partir avant” is one of the best albums to emerge from the Québec music scene this year and confirms Rosie Valland’s exceptional song-writing talents which she has married to her distinctive guitar style and oh-so compelling voice. Aficionados of the peerless Salomé Leclerc – with whom Rosie would appear to share a kindred spirit – would be wise to check out.

La Grande Sophie

Nos Histoires is the new La Grande Sophie album. Review coming up. In the meantime, check out these new tracks: