Rythm 'n Blou
Once upon a time, I thought of Celtic music as the stuff coming out of Ireland and Scotland. That definition expanded quite a bit over the years as my experience with Celtic music grew, but this job still throws me some new twists from time to time. The latest surprise to come my way is Blou, an Acadian band from Nova Scotia.
Yes, I've been touting the remarkable music of the Maritimes for some time. But I wasn't exposed to the Acadian variant until my trip to Cape Breton in October 2000. For those who, like me, aren't familiar with the culture, I'll give you the short version here: The Acadians were French settlers who made their home in Nova Scotia long before America's little rift with the British. In fact, many Acadians were driven from their new homeland by the Brits and drifted south, creating a new French-American culture now known as Cajun. But some remained, and their musical traditions blended with the dominant Scottish traditions of the island to create a whole new subgenre.
OK, enough cultural history. Let's talk about Blou. This music is fun.
The album launches into immediate overdrive with the first track, the hard-driving "Le reel de la Nouvelle-Ecosse" which features some jammin' harmonica and the fiddle in a "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" blistering kind of way. By the end of the first 2 1/2-minute-long track, I was breathless. And awestruck.
The mood shifts a little abruptly into a zydeco-like song, "Tu m'as fair brailler," sung in a mix of French and English. These boys can sing, too -- with pleasantly simple, undistracting lyrics (largely lines like "Baby, you make me cry" and "Baby, please come back"). "Passant par Paris," sung entirely in French, has an almost Appalachian-style urgency to the arrangement. "And if "Johnny peut pas danser" doesn't keep you on the dance floor, you need your pulse checked.
Back to an instrumental track, "La gigue d'automne" has an almost plugged feel, with traditional instruments and styles augmented by a driving electric bass line and rockin' percussion. The song "La montagne" borders on high-stepping country. "Isabelle" is a gentle, lyrical love ballad. "Ma sweet jolie" is brings you back to quick-tempoed zydeco. And so on. If you haven't gotten the picture yet, I'll be more direct: Blou is a diverse, talented band who are shouting out at the world to draw attention to Acadia. If the world knows what's good for it, it'll take notice -- this music is too good to miss.
The band is Patrice Boulianne on accordion, guitar and vocals, Len LeBlanc on percussion, guitar, harmonica, washboard and vocals, Jacques Livernoche on drums and percussion, Jeff Dery on electric bass, harmonica and vocals, and Harvey Marcotte on mandolin, guitar, fiddle and vocals.
The liner notes are entirely in French, except for those few times when the band starts singing in English -- but so what? Like you were going to spend much time reading?
If you haven't yet experienced the joys of Acadian culture, here's your starting point.
[ by Tom Knapp ]