Fiddling in French

Hart Rouge - Une Histoire de Famille
Hart Rouge – Une Histoire de Famille
Norouet – Spirale (Ozone Music Group, 2001)

Hart Rouge – Une Histoire de Famille (Red House Records, 1999)

There used to be a time when musical traditions were more defined, but today as I review folk roots groups from Scandinavian countries, Spain, France, Canada and the UK, those lines have grown blurry. Celtic music fuses with traditional Quebecois or Scandinavian fare while many musicians in their twenties and thirties take to this music, liked a parched earth drinking new drops of rain. The energetic Quebecois trio, Norouet is one such group and while they are not alone in stirring up the Quebecois musical community, they can also be mentioned in the same sentence as the British quartet, Flook and the Spanish Celtic group, Tejedor. All of these groups add spunk to traditional fare, with plenty of inventiveness, humor and a great deal of respect for folk roots.

Norouet is comprised of Eric Beaudry (who performs double duty with La Bottine Souriante) on vocals, guitar, bouzouki, mandolin and feet, Stephanie Lepin (vocals and fiddle) and Patrick Graham (percussion). Norouet contributes a variety of traditional tunes on Spirale and also strike out with their own compositions written by Stephanie and Eric. And whether they are kicking their heels to a traditional jig and reel or inventing their own fun is always the main ingredient. Also worth noting, the recording was produced by Toronto’s musician extraordinaire Oliver Schroer who has put out prolific work of his own. Oliver’s violin virtuosity can be heard on La Complainte du Forgeron, Air d’autre Part and Gazon Bleu. Other guest musicians include, Christopher Layer (uilleann pipes, flute), Francois Marion (electric bass), David Woodhead (electric bass), Jean-Paul Loyer (banjo), Tess LeBlanc and Simon Beaudry (choral vocals). And listeners get a mixed bag of Scottish, Acadian, Breton, traditional Quebecois, bluegrass and a short experimental chamber piece.

Spirale takes flight on a traditional note with the call & response, Jetend le Moulin and then the trio steps into a reel entitled Vaut Ben Mieux that’s followed by Reel de la Pauvrete and Beaudoin-Boudreault, (also reels). The musicians offer a quick respite with a couple of ballads, en Passant par Paris and Marguerite. Then they move into the titular track, based on crooked Breton music and written by Stephanie. A few more highlights include la Complainte du Forgeron about a blacksmith that would rather forge peace then create instruments of war as well as, a seductive frolic, Mon Cher Amant that recalls the saying, when the cat’s away, the mice will play. And well, I can’t get away without mentioning the bluegrass Gazon Bleu composed on a $50 banjo at a kitchen table.

I’ve enjoyed several listens to Spirale and I think it will spend lots of time spinning in my boom box. I highly recommend this disc to fans of Celtic, Quebecois and new music. It’s not quite the music that our grandpas listened to, but when you’re kicking up your heels in a jig, you aren’t going to care,

The more I learn about traditional Quebecois music, the more diversity I find within this genre. The term Quebecois can be misleading since traditional Quebecois music can be found throughout Canada’s French-language speaking outposts. Hart Rouge (siblings from the Campagne family) hails from Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan, near the US border. The group took their name from the original name of the town where they grew up, Hart Rouge. From what I can gather from CD liner notes is that many Quebecers moved out to the prairies as homesteaders during the early 1900’s, but that they didn’t leave their French language or culture behind in Quebec. Therefore, you will find traditional Quebecois music on Une Histoire De Famille, along with an array of historical photographs. By the way, I am told that members of Hart Rouge currently make their home in Montreal.

Although Hart Rouge has performed pop-rock music on their albums along with traditional fare, Une Histoire De Famille, Suzanne, Michelle and Paul Campagne, Davy Gallant, Michel Dupire and guest musicians perform on mostly acoustic instruments and sing in French. Half of the songs fall under traditional arrangements and the other half were composed by band members. Along with uilleann pipes, accordion, violin, flute, feet, percussion, electric bass, acoustic/electric guitars, the Campagnes deliver gorgeous vocal harmonies, call & response and a cappella renderings. The tone here is often nostalgic and sober with a subtle urgency I can’t explain.

Smaragdos Margara by Carlos Martinez and Salvador Cardenal is a Spanish ballad sung in Spanish. Ce Matin Sans Hesiter (Bertrand Gosselin and Jim Corocan) marks a lively call & response song with lively 4-part a cappella harmonies and Vichten (Arthur Arsenault) follows a similar path with breathtaking harmonies. And if you haven’t guessed, this is another one of those albums that begs to be listened to several times.

Buy Une Histoire de Famille