October 19, 2013 by Nils
The other day as I lay in my air-conditioned dustbin thinking, I decided to give the old Spotify program a whirl and came upon a lovely album. Specifically, this one, which in my opinion needs a lot of airplay. I’m not kidding, I’ve listened to it on repeat at least ten or more times so far, and I only just heard it on Tuesday.
People who know me know I’m a fan of Quebecois music (and a lot of folk music that comes out of Canada in general), and this album has shot straight to the top of my listening list. Move aside Le Vent du Nord and Le Rêve du Diablé, you’ve been (temporarily) replaced in the French-Canadian bloc. In 2008, the Quebecois vocal group, Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer, and the (also Quebec-based) early and traditional music ensemble, La Nef, teamed up to make an album of traditional Quebecois and Arcadian songs and tunes. All of the songs have some sort of association with French Canadian maritime life, ranging wildly from songs about shipwrecks and storms, to songs about “the” girl left behind in port, to trapper’s and prisoner’s songs. There are also a few instrumental tunes on the album (including a beautiful waltz), as well as two turluttes (the percussive mouth-music style common in French Canada, easily recognized by the use of sounds like “til-a-tee-dam”–not unlike mouth music in Ireland, Great Britain, and Scandinavia).
The three standouts on the album (and, really, all the tracks are great, but these are some that I quite like) are “Le Dix D’Avril” (“The Tenth of April”), “Le Navire de Bayonne” (“The Ship from Bayonne”), and “Le Combat de la Danaé/The Battle of Quebec.” “Le Dix D’Avril” tells the sad story of an ill-fated voyage through the Grand Banks, where a ship is attacked by a pirate and the ship’s quartermaster is gravely wounded. “Le Navire de Bayonne” is about a ship struck by a sudden storm at sea, which survives thanks to the fervent prayers of the crew, who vow to say a Mass upon making landfall to thank God for their preservation via their entreaties to Mary. “Le Combat de la Danaé/The Battle of Quebec” takes a historical turn, transporting listeners back to the events of the Seven Years War. Here, Les Charbonniers and La Nef combine two songs, the naval ballad “Le Combat de la Danaé,” which recounts a battle in the English Channel in which the French ship, La Danaé, which was sailing to aid the French at Quebec, was taken by the British, and “The Battle of Quebec,” which recounts the taking of Quebec by the British later the same year as the Danaé‘s capture in September 1759. Les Charbonniers sing “Le Combat” in French, while “The Battle of Quebec” is sung in English by soprano Meredith Hall. In all of these specific tracks, there’s something visceral about the arrangements of each piece that really grabs you. I get the same feeling from other Quebecois music, perhaps because of the genre’s reliance on darker chords, but the interplay of voice, bass strings, fiddle, percussion, and cornemuse and shawm really meet here. The sound evokes the North American forest primeval that once covered Arcadia, Quebec, and the banks of the St. Lawrence, and those brave Frenchmen who explored, trapped, and settled Canada in centuries past. Call me an old romantic, but that’s what I feel when hearing this stuff. Perhaps you will, too.
All gushing aside, “Le traverse miraculeuse” is a fantastic album, best suited to colder autumnal evenings and listened to over a glass of mulled wine. Relaxing, rousing, sorrowful, and heartfelt, it’s one of the best albums I’ve discovered this year. It’s a shame I didn’t discover it five years ago.
For your previewing pleasure:
More information about this album can be found at ATMA Classique’s website. There’s even downloadable liner notes!