La Bottine Souriante,
(Mille-Pattes, 1998)

A quick listen to La Bottine Souriante's 1994 album, La Mistrine, was sufficient to send me back to the music store in Toronto once more. This time I snagged Xième, the band's latest release. (Again, it had a lively cover.) I still can't read a word on the box or in the liner notes, and I still can't understand a thing they're singing about. (It's quite possible that they're singing lyrics mocking stupid Americans who can't be bothered to learn one of history's great Romance languages, I suppose, but I can't be bothered to find out.) [Editor's note: That was a joke. Please don't send Rambles anti-American hate mail.]

Anyway, this album is possibly even more dynamic, more intense, more fun than my previous purchase. This is the kind of music I need to play when I need energizing for onerous tasks. Or when I'm having a party. Or, hell, when I'm bored. The music is an artful commingling of a Celtic fiddle heritage, brassy Dixieland and Chicago jazz influences, French and French-Canadian vocal traditions, and various, less identifiable traits. La Bottine Souriante, from Quebec, has had 20 years to polish its unique style, and the nine-man band has definitely found something worth keeping.

Still with the band since their 1994 release (see previous review) are Régent Archambault, Michel Bordeleau, Robert Ellis, Jean Fréchette, Denis Fréchette, Yves Lambert, Jocelyn Lapointe and André Verreault. Newcomer André Brunet replaces Ron Di Lauro and Martin Racine in the lineup. (I'd tell you what they all play, but I can't translate the lists of instruments! [Editor's note: See above, re: our "no hate mail" pact.] "Reel du forgeron," an all-instrumental track, is a frenetic mix of styles that, played live, is sure to have everyone in the room on their feet. The chanting chorus in "Yoyo-Verret" is a treat. The violin duet in the middle of "Suite Metisse" is enchanting. The laidback, bluesy "Un air si doux" is hilarious, even if I don't know what they're saying in the song and response. "Margot Fringue," with brash vocalizations, softshoe tap and a honkytonk piano all overlaid with a sharp brass section, is just plain fun.

Oh hell, the whole album is fun. If you'd like to check them out and your local CD store doesn't have a voluminous French-Canadian rack (and you don't have people to visit up in Canada), you can find most of their albums online.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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