To 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.
The bestest new French Christmas tune of the year! Plus a French husky take on the Mariah Carey-classic, all in one EP!
Maude 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.
From the bestest French album of the year:
Yes, tis the season again. The first cool French Christmas song is out:
Hat tip to Christmas Underground
More French x-mas music coming up!
And don’t you forget it:
Québec 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.