The conclusion of the tumultuous year of 2018 approached fast, and this year was so incredibly stressful with the constant barrage of bad political and environmental news – first from south of the border and then within our own home province of Ontario – that thank goodness there was music to keep our spirits alive and our souls fed.
Here is our take on the top performances and/or albums of the year. You may note that the fantastic musicians on our list all hail from the province of Québec. In our estimation, this is the place in Canada where traditional music is really hauling itself into the 21st century big time. This is no longer the music of your rural-dwelling grandparents; this is music that takes the traditions and morphs them into something new and fresh. If you love traditional music and live elsewhere in Canada, you owe it to yourself to hear what’s going on in Québec.
Number one on our list of astounding performances this year was the duo of Alexis Chartrand and Nicolas Babineau from Québec. Alexis, on fiddle and feet, is absolutely ably accompanied by Nicolas on guitar and fiddle. Both in their early 20s, these musical co-conspirators are taking the world of traditional music by storm, and they had the audience at the little Sutton Fiddle Festival on their feet long before their set was over. The live performance was nothing short of gob-smacking. If you missed it, there’s always the CD: Gigues à Deux Faces.
Number one on our list of astounding recordings this year was Les Entrailles de la Montagne from the very talented multi-intrumentalist Jean-François Bélanger, also from Québec. We loved his poetic approach to composition of melodies that sound like they’ve been on their way from Scandinavia for millennia. Bélanger plays the keyed fiddles of Sweden as well as the multi-stringed Hardanger fiddle of Norway, along with dozens of other unusual instruments to evoke the other-worldly sounds that make this recording so phenomenally unique and wonderful to listen to. www.jfbelanger.com
A close second in our live performance contest was the band É.T.É., yet another band from Québec that absolutely knocked the socks off the audience at the Sutton Fiddle Festival. Elisabeth Moquin, fantastic fiddler, singer and stepdancer, joined forces with Thierry Clouette (bouzouki, feet and voice) and cellist Elisabeth Giroux to bring a completely up-to-date trad sound to the ears of the audience. Gorgeous interweaving harmonies delighted listeners, and then the stepdancing finale by Elisabeth Moquin was completely the pièce de resistance. Their lovely album Le Boire des Minuits is available now. www.etetrio.com
The highly-regarded Québec trio Genticorum brought another highly listenable album out this summer: Avant L’Orage, and presented it beautifully under the dark July night sky at Festival Mémoire et Racines in Quebec. The theme of “before the storm” worked beautifully with the selection of pieces rising in tension throughout the album. This was the first album Genticorum has done since the talented multi-instrumentalist Nicholas Williams joined the band, replacing Alex de Grosbois-Garand, and Nick’s beautiful influence really shows. www.genticorum.com
Finally, Notre Album Solo, a joint production by Le Vent du Nord and De Temps Antan will really make you sit up and take notice. Eight of the best male trad musicians from Quebec took the challenge of producing a joint album, and it’s nothing short of fantastic. Great voices, three of Quebec’s finest fiddlers, two of Québec’s most accomplished accordionists, and the province’s three best accompanists are on this album. The talent, all alumni of Québec supergroup La Bottine Souriante, includes two pairs of brothers: Simon and Eric Beaudry as well as Réjean and André Brunet. Rounding out the joint band are Nicolas Boulerice, Olivier Demers, David Boulanger and Pierre-Luc Dupuis, all stars in the Québecois folk/trad universe. The album gives us a window into the highly creative world these eight musicians and friends inhabit with ease. Putting this album on your playlist is like opening your gray winter skies to let in brilliant sunshine. https://leventdunord.com and http://detempsantan.qc.ca