Album review: N2, by Norouet

Here’s something I’ve come to learn in my explorations of current Quebecois trad bands: Éric Beaudry is apparently in half of them, or at least so it seems! And given my rapidly growing respect for Monsieur Beaudry’s musical prowess, this is as far as I’m concerned all to the awesome.
I’ve found references to him being in four bands to date. La Bottine Souriante and De Temps Antan I’ve already found and fallen in love with, but M. Beaudry is also involved with the bands Norouet and Ni Sarpe Ni Branche. Those two groups aren’t as high profile as La Bottine and De Temps Antan, so their music is harder for us in the States to find–but happily, Norouet’s album N2 is on iTunes and CD Baby.
“Norouet”, or so the Googles inform me, is slang for a northwesterly gale. It’s an excellent word, very much capturing the energy of the band while falling delicately upon the ear. This seeming contradiction of a gale and delicacy captures my overall impression of N2 as an album, as well.
N2 slants heavily instrumental, with over half the tracks being entirely without vocals. This is not a bad thing, though initially I found it a bit odd that their overall (instrumental, at least) sound reminds me a lot more of Solas or Altan from Celtic/Irish music than other Quebecois bands that boast M. Beaudry among their members. The distinct lack of footwork on several of the tracks throws me off, since I’ve trained my ear to listen for that now!
Track by track reactions:
“Le P’tit Tour de Train”: Lots of flute, guitar, and violin here. This is what I’m talking about when I describe Norouet as energetic but delicate. If I hadn’t known this was a Quebecois band’s album, though, I’d be thinking I was listening to Solas; stylistically, they’re very similar. As a flautist myself, though, I’m honorbound to be partial to this one.
“La Suite du Bouquet: Valse Oliver/Gigue Jean-Paul/Reel Lisa”: This is a nice long piece that starts off slowly, with some wistful, sweet flute and guitar in “Valse Oliver”. Things pick up slightly with “Gigue Jean-Paul”–and then considerably with “Reel Lisa” at the end of this piece, where we finally get some footwork going and my ear goes “there we go!” “Reel Lisa” is fun with fiddles on the higher ends of their ranges, too, with yet more of this light, deft energy.
“Pingo Bello/Brandy de Xavier Dallaire”: The first vocals on the album appear here, and here I have the pleasure of hearing some female vocals, which I don’t have much of in my Quebecois collection yet. I’m assuming (I don’t know for sure, since I bought the album digitally and therefore don’t have the album credits handy) that this is band member Stéphanie Lépine; she has a lovely high voice. There’s some nice backup vocals from one of the men in the group, possibly Éric, and the blending of voices is very sweet. This track picks up noticeably in vigor with the instrumental at the end, which makes for a pleasing contrast to the earlier singing.
“Beau Chasseur de Lièvre/Woonsocket”: I mostly notice the guitar through the first bit of this song, since there’s hardly any other instrumentation, and it’s fairly mellow. About partway through more instruments come in, which adds interest for my ear. (Really, though, I note this track because of wondering what “Woonsocket” means; googling that shows me references to a couple of American cities, so I can’t help but wonder what the context here for the track title is!)
“Mon Aimable Catin”: M. Beaudry has the lead vocals here, yay! He’s riding the bottom end of his range as I’ve come to know it from various albums, which works excellently for this particular minor-key song. I know just enough French to get a bare idea of what these lyrics are about; it’d be fun to translate them to see if I’m right, and to see if they go with the subtle tension threading through the melody line here. Most Celtic and Quebecois music, as I’ve previously observed, falls into the categories of Whiskey, Sex, and Death–and this one falls squarely into Sex! Towards the end of the song, other voices come in, and I hear some really nice bass notes being hit by one of the other band members, too.
“Pat In the Street/Mr. Drums”: Back to instrumentals here, heavy on the flute and violin, and percussion that’s either a tambourine or maybe some shakers. Which is kind of funny, given that in a song whose title includes “Mr. Drums”, there’s a surprising lack of emphasis on any drums.
“La Plus Jolie Maîtresse”: Back to Éric again on the lead vocals, and Stéphanie singing backup. Good strong punctuating accompaniment out of the flute player, and I like the hard syncopated strikes on percussion in the bridge about midway through. There’s a bit more power to this track than on much of the rest of the album up to this point, a needed lift after long stretches of mellow.
“Reel Du Lac Caché/Grosse Roche”: Right on, a lively reel with proper footwork! The percussion kicks in a bit more heavily here as well, which builds on the increase of power from the previous track. It’s a bit strange to me to hear a Quebecois reel with an actual drum kit in it, but it works.
“F=ma”: This track’s got the strangest title on the album; I really wonder what it’s supposed to refer to. It’s also one of the more musically interesting tracks amongst the instrumentals N2 has to offer. My personal musical experience is not sufficient for me to know where they’re pulling influences from here, but the overall structure of the track stands out distinctly against the more familiar sets of reels and such. Lovely vocalizations by Mme. Lépine in the middle and at the end, too.
“Lingtinko”: Oh, now we are TALKING. This is hands down my favorite track on the album, with some good vigorous lead vocals out of M. Beaudry as he springs up and down his range. Also, there’s bagpipe! I keep hearing the word “chocolat” in there, which is making me really want to see the lyrics too.
Aw hell, people, just check out the video! It speaks for itself:

“The Diver”: Interesting that this track’s got an English title. Interesting, too, that it starts off with some rumbly noises that evoke ocean depths before plaintive guitar and flute come in. Had I been doing the track order for this album, I would not have put it after “Lingtinko”, since that’s a very hard act to follow. That said? Still pretty, in a sad kind of way that makes me think about all the Celtic-type songs about sailors lost at sea. Which may be the point for all I know!
“Ma Charmante Élisabeau/La Marche de Conan”: Breathy flute and low, dirge-like strings here, either a violin playing low or maybe a viola, set a dark mood for Éric and Stéphanie to come in on some tight harmony. Then everyone else comes in behind them, and oh yeah, I like this. Makes me wish that more of the tracks on the album featured everybody in the group singing, because they really do sound good together. The track finishes off with some checking in from the instruments, maintaining the song’s overall dark mood as they fade out–and the gale blows past.
So yeah. Long story short, it’s not the first album I’d turn to if I wanted to introduce someone to Quebecois music, but there’s good stuff here nonetheless. If you’re a Solas fan you’ll definitely find appeal here. Come for Éric Beaudry and Stéphanie Lépine’s excellent vocals, stick around for the tight harmonies from everyone else, and play the hell out of “Lingtinko”!