I posted back in 2011 about my recommendations for La Volée d’Castors, who remain one of my top favorite Quebec bands even though they’ve more or less gone inactive. Much of what I said in that previous post still holds true!
But since I did that post I did in fact pick up their holiday album, L’album du temps des fêtes, because I am a completist that way. And I have to admit that it was great fun to hear French interpretations of otherwise familiar-sounding holiday songs, as well as some things that weren’t familiar to me at all. And there’s some fun almost 50’s-style vocals on one of the tracks on that album, too, which was particularly surprising in the context of Quebec trad and the holidays.
Also, I must call to your attention this excellent video from 2003, which is of a VDC concert. The band’s in great form here and you’ll hear several of the tracks that appear on the albums VDC and Migration. Look towards the back to spot Réjean Brunet, now of Le Vent du Nord, on the bass!
My previous favorite songs and albums of theirs still stand, but I can also note that it’s come to my attention that three of the gentlemen previously involved with VDC are now involved with a new group, La Cantinière, and they’re about to drop a new album which is available on bandcamp over here. So if you like the vocals in VDC, this should be well worth your attention as well!
Internets, as you all know, I’ve been happily fangirling Quebec traditional music for a couple of years now, and quite a few of you have started to ask me questions about it. And because I like you, Internets, and I want to share with you the musical goodness, I’d like to present for you a Guide to Quebecois Traditional Music for English Speakers! Q: What is Quebecois traditional music?
A: A very close cousin of Irish/Celtic trad. If you’re a fan of Irish or Scottish music, you’ll probably find Quebec trad very compatible to your tastes; there’s a lot of overlap between the two genres. Q: What makes Quebec trad differ from Irish/Celtic/Scottish/etc.?
A: Three main differences, which are:
Podorythmie. With most Celtic bands the percussion will usually be handled by a bodhran player, who may double up on shakers or bones. There may or may not be an actual drumkit depending on how far into rock the band in question slants. With a Quebec trad band, though, the percussion is almost always handled by someone who does podorythmie, the rhythmic footwork that’s a big signature sound for the genre.
Call and response. Quebec trad is very heavily structured around call and response, where you’ll have whoever’s singing lead echoed by the rest of the band. Relatedly, you’ll find a great number of Quebec trad songs structured in such a way that the first line of a verse will be called, then responded, and then the verse will finish up with a chorus and then a second line which will then roll over into being the first line of the next verse. (This is a very helpful song structure when you’re a newbie to French and you’re trying to figure out how to sing the words!)
Now, sure, call and response isn’t unknown in Celtic trad in general–but I’ve seen it be a LOT more common in Quebec trad. It makes the songs highly participatory and that’s one of the big reasons I love singing along to the songs so much.
Turluttes. You’ll find a lot of Quebec trad songs will have a turlutte section, sometimes small, sometimes dominant, and sometimes as the entire song. Turluttes are when you get a singer or group of singers vocalizing a melody that in other traditions might be played with instruments. You’ll also hear this referred to as mouth music or mouth reels, similar to puirt à beul or lilting.
As the Wikipedia link I’ve pointed at in the previous paragraph calls out, turluttes are built out of a set of specific phonemes–a lot of t and d and l and m sounds. They’re almost always up-tempo and joyous and great, great fun.
A truly splendid example of turluttes in action can be found sung by Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer right over here, with bonus podorythmie solo in the middle.
Q: How is Quebec music similar to Irish/Scottish/Celtic music?
A: Lots of Quebec trad will be familiar to Celtic music fans just because there’s a rich heritage of tunes, jigs/gigues, reels, etc. There are some fun musical and stylistic differences that instrumentalists will notice–particularly how many Quebec tunes are often played “crooked”, doing interesting things to time signatures and varying up the rhythm. If you’re an instrumentalist you’ll want to listen for that.
Likewise, a lot of the topics of the songs will be familiar to Celtic music fans. Alexander James Adams has been often quoted (in particular by me!) as saying that the three main categories of Celtic music are Whiskey, Sex, and Death. This is also true of Quebec music, although from what I’ve seen in Quebec music, it’s more like Wine, Sex, and Death, with a side helping of Religion. (I’ve noticed quite a few songs involving shenanigans that involve priests, for example. ;) ) Q: Do I need to be able to speak French to appreciate Quebec trad?
A: No! Certainly no more than you need to be a Irish or Scots Gaelic speaker to appreciate Celtic music, anyway. I find that studying a little bit of French enough to let me get an idea of how Quebec trad lyrics go enhances my appreciation of the songs considerably, but you don’t have to go to the lengths I’m going. A lot of the most active bands in the genre post lyrics to their websites, often in both French and English, and even if they only post the French lyrics that’s enough for you to throw the words through a translation engine.
And there’s fun stuff to be found in the lyrics, too. Plus if you do that, you get to be one of the Anglophones in a Quebec trad concert who can start snickering at all the best bawdy bits of songs!
Also, turluttes are language-agnostic! Q: Enough overview! Who are some bands or artists I can check out?
The ones I’m most fond of are La Bottine Souriante, La Volée d’Castors, Galant, tu perds ton temps, Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer, Genticorum, De Temps Antan, and especiallyLe Vent du Nord!
And if you have trouble telling all those names apart, I can direct to you to this handy flowchart I made for that exact problem!
For a nice crossover of Celtic and Quebec fiddle styles, I also highly recommend Celtic Fiddle Festival, who feature André Brunet of De Temps Antan. There are also a couple of excellent albums done by André Marchand and Grey Larsen, specifically on the theme of crossover between Irish and Quebec music, and I recommend those too. You can find them here.
I will update this FAQ with new data as I think of it. I did overviews on my favorite bands a while back but I’ll be posting new ones as well, since several of the bands in question dropped new albums since I originally wrote those posts.
Any questions I haven’t covered here? Shoot ’em at me!
My belovedest of Daras is at a bit of a loss when it comes to comprehending my rampageous affection for Quebecois traditional music. She doesn’t speak a lick of French, and so I could mention any one of the various bands I’m following, only to have their names just parse to her as “French sounds”. And it didn’t help matters much either when we went up to Harrison Hot Springs this past weekend–because two of the guys in De Temps Antan ARE brothers of guys in Le Vent du Nord, and the sets of brothers in question do look rather alike!
Several of you who read me on a regular basis won’t be having these problem, but in case you’re in the same boat Dara is and find yourself trying to figure out who all these people are I keep enthusiastically babbling about, here. I present for you this handy flowchart for how to tell apart my seven favorite Quebecois traditional bands!
I’ve gushed over Le Vent du Nord; now it’s time to show my love to La Volée d’Castors!
I found these guys, like a great deal of my Canadian folk favorites, courtesy of Great Big Sea! They were mentioned in a thread on the OKP along the theme of “if you like Great Big Sea, you’ll also like (fill in the blank)”. I remember thinking at the time that they had a very awesome name, and am now kicking myself soundly that it took me as long as it did to actually properly investigate them.
La Volée is not, sadly, quite as readily available as Le Vent is; all of their albums I quickly found on iTunes, but they’re NOT on Amazon’s MP3 Downloads site, and I’m seeing Amazon.com listing their physical CDs at import prices, which therefore means Expensive. Amazon.ca is somewhat better, with more reasonable prices, but they don’t have all of the albums available. Their own site has purchase links, though, so you might try going directly to La Volée’s discography page and try clicking off from there if you want to buy their albums and you’re not an iTunes customer. Alternately, try Archambault.ca, who appears to have all of their albums in stock. Be warned though that if you’re ordering from outside Quebec, mind your shipping charges!
Now let’s talk the actual music. What I like about La Volée is that of all the Quebec bands I’ve been listening to, their live performance comes closest to the rip-roaring vigor of a Great Big Sea concert. Their podorythmie guy, Frédéric Bourgeois, is excellent both with the footwork and the vocals, and I’m not just saying that because I’ve seen him drop me a couple of Likes on Facebook posts! M. Bourgeois can belt him out a song, and that he can do this while doing the footwork impresses me greatly. In the studio, they favor a lot of percussion and often have a bit of a Spanish flavor to their tracks as well, which is kind of cool. On their last studio album in particular, they’re rocking a horn section and get almost orchestral in places, which gives them a way to stand out against the other Quebec trad in my collection–even with the kings of the horns, La Bottine Souriante, to compete against!
Which album should you get? For my money, that’s easy: hands down, for the love of all that’s holy, GET THE LIVE ALBUM! It’s called Y’a du monde à messe, and it has the distinction of being the first non-Great Big Sea album since stuff by Carbon Leaf to break into the Top 40 Most Played playlist in my iTunes collection! The energy on this album does not stop from their opening “Fortierville” set to the big closing singalong.
Of the other albums, the only one I haven’t listened to yet is Temps des fêtes, and the only reason I haven’t picked that up yet is because it’s a Christmas album and I’m less inclined to listen to those. But I do have the rest of LVC’s studio work, and I do like all of it. It takes an album or two for their sound to really come together, but as of the third album, VDC, you can tell the mix is there. However, if I were to recommend a studio album, I would have to go no question with their most recent one, Le retour. This is the one with the rocking horn section, and the periodic almost orchestral tracks; it is therefore most musically interesting to me.
Here are my favorite LVC tracks:
“Revenez donc toutes”, originally on VDC but shown to best advantage on the live album. This is one of the first Quebecois songs I started trying to learn the lyrics to and I’m still not quite sure what it’s about, past it involving a mill and the obligatory pretty girls. There’s a long reel at the end, and this is where some of their almost Spanish flavor comes in–especially on the live album, where they’re yelling out “Senorita” and such. Fun!
“Belle, embarquez!”, originally on Par monts et par vaux, but again, best on the live album! I actually more or less translated my way through this one, and giggle over what it’s about: a guy trying to invite a pretty girl onto his boat, only she foists him off by claiming to be the daughter of the town executioner. And when he goes OH SHIT and shoos her off the boat, she goes HA HA and says she’s actually the daughter of the richest guy in town. Ha! Very fun performance, live.
“Les coucous”, originally on Migration, but yet again, best on the live album. This is the song I turn to when I want serious, and I mean, SERIOUS stomping action. It always makes me want to jump up and boing around and belt out JE FAIS LARUDONDAINE! at the top of my lungs. :D
“Le p’tit moine”, on the new album, Le retour. This is notable for the extended turlutte during most of the latter part of the song, where the mouth reel by the band is echoed by the instruments for one great big blast of awesome.
“En héritage”, from Le retour. This is the track I most have in mind when I talk about the horns and orchestral sound on this album. It starts off sounding very much like dramatic movie music and I keep wondering what the Quebecois protagonist in my head is about to do when I hear this song start off. (I think he might be a spy!)
I have a selection of other LVC tracks I repeatedly visit off the previous albums, but these ones are the biggest!
Here’s LVC doing Revenez donc toutes live! And if you happen to be on Facebook, find their Facebook page; they’ve been posting recent vids there too.
Last but not least it is very worth noting that M. Rejean Brunet, now of Le Vent du Nord, actually used to be in La Volée! So he’s spread his awesome across two different bands, and helped make it very easy for me to love them both. :D
All this starts, as many things musical do for me, with Great Big Sea! As I’ve mentioned, the first time I saw GBS perform, La Bottine Souriante was part of that show. At the time they were nine members strong, and I was almost as blown away by them as I was by GBS.
Also from GBS, I get to La Volée d’Castors. I found them thanks to a thread along the theme of “if you like Great Big Sea, you’ll also like ” on the OKP, though it took me some time to actually do anything about it–i.e., to find their music, see if I liked it, and actually buy it! I’m just sorry I didn’t find them sooner. :D
From LVC I get to Le Vent du Nord, because I found Le Vent buying LVC albums on iTunes. LVN popped up in the list of ‘people who bought this also bought’ albums. It turns out also that Réjean Brunet, current member of Le Vent, also used to be in LVC!
Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer I also discovered on iTunes when I started buying LVC and LVN albums. Again, it took me a bit to actually decide to buy their stuff–but I decided this was clearly Important when I read their web page and discovered a) they’re an a cappella group, and b) two of their members are former La Bottine Souriante guys! One of them in particular, Michel Bordeleau, was in La Bottine when I saw them perform in 2000.
De Temps Antan and Galant, Tu Perds Ton Temps are my most recent acquisitions, thanks to M Kenney, who’s dropped me several comments on the topic! De Temps Antan are connected both to La Bottine Souriante AND to Le Vent du Nord, since all three guys in De Temps are either current or former La Bottine members–and Éric Beaudry is of course the brother of Simon, over in Le Vent.
The Beaudry boys are connected back to the Charbonniers, since André Marchand, current Charbonniers member, produced their album Le sort des amoureux for them.
The Galant girls are also connected to LVN, since M Kenney informs me that they, Le Vent, and the Charbonniers have all performed together, doing a song called “Diable et le Fermier”, written by Nicolas Boulerice of Le Vent. Here it is, on YouTube:
Long story short, clearly all the best bands in Quebec are tied together in one great big web of AWESOME. I love that! And I’ll be amused to see how many more ways I can find to tie all these groups together, and if there are other groups in the web as well!
Le Vent du Nord, who take over as my official Second Favorite Band. They narrowly, narrowly beat out La Volee d’Castors on the grounds that:
Simon Beaudry is gorgeous, and as previously noted, I have a marked fondness for cute dark-haired bouzouki players! (Note: yes, I am aware he’s holding a guitar in that picture. I have not yet found a suitably pretty picture of him with a bouzouki. Being imaginative, I can extrapolate!)
LVN actually seem to periodically do US shows, if their tour calendar is any indication. Which means there’s an off-chance I might actually get to see them perform if they ever head out this way, and if they do, I am ALL OVER THAT.
LVN’s website has an English edition as well as a French one. LVC’s website currently does not, and while I can still kinda poke my way around theirs and make reasonable guesses about what’s what, a coherent full English site is still more helpful.
LVN also provide lyrics on their website. While I speak only a meager handful of phrases in French, I can at least use the French lyrics to read while I’m listening to the songs, which can let me start to try to parse them as words, as opposed to “lyrical nonsense being sung by guys with sexy voices”! The English lyrics provided are spotty at best, and are clearly the half-assed output of a translation engine, but they are at least enough to give me a half-assed idea of what various songs are actually about.
Now, all this squeeing aside, LVC are still very, very close behind the gentlemen of LVN, on the strength of their music alone!
And I fear that Carbon Leaf has now slipped to fourth place. Sorry, lads! (I do however resolve to check out CL’s forthcoming live album/DVD set, and show them some love too.)
Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, can ever dislodge my beloved B’ys from the top of my music list–but I gotta say, Le Vent du Nord and La Volee d’Castors are duking it out HARD for the esteemed position of My Second Favorite Band. Especially after I went and found some videos of Le Vent du Nord this afternoon, and realized WHOA HEY WAIT A MINUTE, their guitarist/bouzouki player is really rather cute. Thus continuing my grand tradition of being partial to cute dark-hairedbouzouki players!
Here, have some Le Vent du Nord goodness, them doing “Cre Mardi”, one of my favorite songs of theirs. The dude in the front, nearest to the person who took the vid, is the aforementioned cute guitarist/bouzouki player. When he moves out of the way towards the latter half of the song, you can see more of the awesome podorythmie action from his bandmate behind him! WHILE THE GUY IS PLAYING THE FIDDLE. I mean damn.
I grabbed a couple more of theirs for my YouTube favorites list as well, like this one, which is a full ten minutes of a capella excellence (all four guys in the band take turns singing lead, and I got a giggle out of this one featuring a tune La Volee d’Castors covered, “Les Coucous”), and this one, which is also long but is a nice segue from an instrumental into vocals. Mad props to YouTube user bordurat, too, who took all three of these vids and who is clearly an LVN fan.
For comparison, I also give you La Volee d’Castors here and here. I like these guys just about as much as Le Vent du Nord–their harmonies aren’t as smooth and polished in these vids (although NOTE: they’re really a lot more polished on their latest album, Le retour), but they have GBS-like levels of vigor on their awesome live album Y a Du Monde À’ Messe! and I TOTALLY want to see them in concert. And check THEIR foot-rhythm guy, who totally meets and matches LVN’s–LVC’s guy makes with the footstompy + accordion!
I highly recommend both of these groups for any GBS fan who either speaks French or digs the sound of it sung!