La Bottine Souriante,
Jusqu'aux p'tites heures
('Til the wee hours)

(Mille Pattes, 1991)

Probably no North American folk group was as influential throughout the 1990s as Quebec's La Bottine Souriante. And no album was more pivotal to the band's development than this one, which lands high up on any all time top-10 lists of recordings.

When the original members of La Bottine joined up with the brass quartet for this album, it set a new course for the already well-established group. Their early albums had been straight-out-of-the-kitchen, Quebecois traditionals. With this change La Bottine became more than the excellent ambassadors for Quebec roots music that they were in the 1980s; they became innovators, creating a whole new sound.

This new La Bottine, evidenced for the first time here on Jusqu'aux p'tites heures, marries the traditional Quebecois with the jazzy riffs of a brass quartet. "Le Chanson du Queteux," the smooth "Ninette," the energetic "Picoro" and Raymond Levesque's laid-back "Emilien" all feature this new sound.

But LBS also gives us the wonderful traditional reels ("Reel de Pointe au Pic," "Brandy Payette") and exceptional traditional vocals ("La Turlutte des 33 voleurs") we expect from them. And, as usual, Yves Lambert's vocals and Michel Bordeleau's foot percussion are highlights.

Much of the album is an extended meditation on the bottle -- the joys of alcohol consumption as well as its downside. "Picoro" is the story of someone who drinks himself into the grave, along with several family inheritances. "Un p'tit coup, Mesdames" means "(have) a little drink, ladies." "Emilien" is the story of a group of men who once had fun partying together but no longer have the energy to partake ... and so on.

But there are other, more serious topics. "Le Derap de la guerre" is singer Lambert's first foray into rap (or a facsimile thereof) in an effective anti-war rant -- the first President Bush was fighting the first Gulf War at the time. Rap, that is, merged with a traditional Quebec vocalization, or turlutte.

Jusqu'aux p'tites heures is a pioneering recording with theme, structure and variety. It's also a lot of fun! And it set the course for their subsequent successful album La Mistrine and later work that established the band's reputation as world folk pioneers. This is folk music that is deeply rooted in the traditions which nonetheless transcends the "folk" label. I highly recommend it.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 24 January 2004