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.

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

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.

Les sœurs Boulay

Stéphanie and Mélanie Boulay – by far Gaspésie’s and my favourite sisters – are back with a brand new song from their eagerly awaited (by me at least) new album that is scheduled for release in the autumn.

“Fais-moi un show de boucane” hints at the more expansive and band orientated sound that the sisters have honed during their shows. While those majestic vocal harmonies still shine, there’s a defined rock-edge; solid percussion, electric guitar and horns fill the senses, marking a departure from the girls’ gentle country-folk melodies. This by contrast is bold, brash, and just a little bit sexy…

Le A

Le ALe A are a quartet of shoegazy alt-rockers who hail from Bordeaux. The band are Blandine Peis on vocals and synths, the guitars and vocals of Ita Duclair and Emeline Marceau, together with the xy chromosomes of drummer Michaël Martin. Named in homage to the bande dessinée series “Philémon”, the band have recently released a five-track EP full of indie-inspired wondrousness entitled “Pale Echo.”

It’s an EP chock-full of dark and moody indie and alt-rock; pounding percussion and a fusillades of crashing, reverbed guitars that are counterpoised with angelic, honey-dripped vocals and the most soothing of harmonisations. But what makes this EP stand-out is when the band take a genre that is so arguably English in nature and crafted the most incredibly powerful song that is cent-pour-cent French. Magnifique!!!

Andréanne Martin

2015xxxx Adréanne Martin Artwork1Yet more cool jazz for a hot Montréal summer’s evening!

Singer-songwriter Andréanne Martin is yet another exciting talent to burst out of the vibrant Montréal music scene. Winner in the Auteure-compositeur-interprète category at this year’s Tremplin de Dégelis (other notable winners include both Klô Pelgag and Véronique Bilodeau) as well as a Prix Sodec (from Québec’s Ministry of Culture and Communications’ Société de Développement des Entreprises Culturelles), she has just released her debut single “Je bégaye”, a totally infectious and summery swinging gypsy jazz infused number that you can’t but help tap along to the rhythm of the double-bass and percussion. The song also showcases Andréanne dynamic and distinctive vocals as well as serving as a teaser for her debut EP that is scheduled for release later this autumn.

But there’s far more to Andréanne’s repertoire than Jazz. Head over to her SoundCloud page for some soulful blues, hot funk (and a gorgeous riff) and beguiling chansons…

Mira Choquette

Mira  Choquette ArtworkCool Jazz on a summer’s evening, anyone?

Singer-songwriter and bona fide Montréalaise Mira Choquette has been performing Jazz for as long as she can remember. She has sung with the renowned Montréal Jazz-enemble Claremont Jazz for the past 10 years, as well as lending her disarmingly smooth vocals to artists such as Patrick Watson and has recently released her debut album “Something Cool” that features a round dozen relaxing Jazz standards, including a rather sultry interpretation of Edith Piaf’s “Adieu mon coeur.”

Take a listen below…


20150705 Saratoga Artwork2It’s a well known fact that you can never – ever – own too many records that feature Chantal Archambault. Purveyor of some of the most thoughtful and intelligent – and yes – romantic – country-tinged folk tunes known to man, she has the knack of crafting such delicately constructed songs that you can’t help but get in touch with your feminine side…

Saratoga is the side project of Chantal and her partner Michel-Olivier Gasse (author, musician – the driving force behind Caloon Saloon – and contributor to Chantal’s albums). Named after the famous Spa resort in upstate New York where the pair first decided to form a duet, their eponymous EP consists of five intimate and seemingly effortless folk-tinged numbers that are full of timeless melodies, thoughtful, intelligent lyrics and the most note perfect vocal harmonies.

The tracks that top and tail this EP truly stand-out. “Saratoga”, clean and stripped-back, just acoustic guitar, double-bass and crystal clear yet heart-warming vocals matched to a honey-dripped melody and lilting refrain. “Oublie Pas” is probably the best example of the delicate vocal harmonies and complex lyrical arrangements that the pair create.

And while it is fair to say that at times the songs on this album are imprinted with Chantal’s DNA this EP is far more than a collection of Chantal Archambault songs. “Les bourgeons pis le gazon” – apparently the first song that someone ever wrote for Chantal – and “Madame Rosa”, a Saloon Caloon composition both lead with Michel’s vocals with Chantal’s vocals adding texture and depth to the sweet harmonies.