Le Vent du Nord's Fabulous Holiday Gift

Tromper le Temps
Borealis 214
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Reviewers are supposed to be impartial, but I can’t help myself: Le Vent du Nord is my favorite Québeçois band and has been for quite some time. We often (rightly) associate music from La Belle Province as spirited, but sometimes ragged–appropriate for the dance and party niche it fills so lustily. Le Vent du Nord is spirited all right, but it is also so accomplished that the music is as at-home in a recital hall as in a Gatineau kitchen.

To experience just how wonderful this album is, go to track ten, “Le Diable et le Fermier.” It’s Nicholas Boulerice’s entry into an ever-expanding genre of songs about commoners–in this case a farmer–who outsmart the Devil. Much of it is just thundering feet, a cappella call-and-response vocals, and instrumental drone, but you don’t need much with four singers whose harmonies are tighter than an elephant’s yoga pants. Though the song is new, it’s in synch with the throwback feel of others on the album, some of which are gleaned from 18th and 19th century songbooks, and some of which commemorate past events. In the latter category place “Lettre á Durham,” the quartet’s solemn-yet-hopeful take on an infamous British report on how to subdue Francophone rebels and their culture (and their limited success in so doing). Le vent du Nord can certainly burn the dance boards, as we hear in Olivier Demers’ frothy fiddle work on “Toujours Amant,” and in a reel titled “Le Winnebago” (named for an unfortunate vehicle rental) in which the fiddle mixes with bouzouki (Simon Beaudry), guitar (Demers), and accordion and mouth harp (Réjean Brunet). Or how some real froth–a song inspired by being stranded (poor babies!) in the famed Belgian brewing town of Chimay? And what better way to flavor it than with Boulerice cranking out a spirited hurdy-gurdy melody? You get a bit of everything on this album, including “La Soirée du Hockey,” which began life as a small protest against Canada’s decision to discontinue French-language broadcasts of “Hockey Night in Canada,” but which now has an added level of poignancy given the NHL lockout. There are also seasonal songs, songs with a bluesy feel, and songs about waiting for love, a mother’s love, and even that rarest of things in folk music–requited love (“Le Souhait”). 

Let’s just crown these guys the Kings of Québeçois music and be done with it. Thus far in the 21st century, no other band comes close to their track record of sustained excellence. Call this one un cadeau glorieux for the holidays.--Rob Weir

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