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MELISANDE - Les Metamorphoses

MELISANDE - Les Metamorphoses
La Prūche Libre PRU24401

Quebecoise chanteuse Mélisande was voted Traditional Singer of the Year 2014 in the Canadian Folk Music Awards and this album, Les Métamorphoses, is a candidate for Independent Folk Album of the Year for 2015 having been released on La Prûche Libre, an independent label co-owned by one of Québec’s folk music legends, Yves Lambert. Her band plays ‘electrotrad’, and is comprised of herself on lead vocals, electric guitar and jew’s harp, Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand on bass, flute and vocal, Robin Boulianne on violin, mandolin, banjo, foot percussion and vocal, and Gabriel Ethier on keyboards and programming. The quartet plays an energetic blend of traditional music, rock and electro-pop with a mix of acoustic and electric instruments, vocal harmonies and sequencing.

It’s unsurprising to hear elements of 80s electronic pop, synthesised loops and padded percussive driven beats that mix with ethnic instruments behind her strong and distinctive vocals. Her voice recalls Marie Yacoub of the late lamented Malicorne and is cut from the same ethnic-crossover cloth as their Les Catherals Del’ Industrie from 1986 with its chilling blend of electronics and folk music. The same spirit of updating folk music exists here, especially lyrically, with feminist updating of much of the lyrical elements as on Sort De Vieille Fille and Je Fais La Difficile, and this brings up my particular beef with this enlightened post-feminist deconstructionist approach to traditional folk songs.

Personally, I have difficulty with feminist revisionist traditional music, where existing ballads are rewritten, feminising and politicising them. This approach may empower women as befits enlightened ideology, but interfering with traditional songs which are essentially set in the past and may not reflect present political or social mores is akin to rebranding a sacred cow or holy grail, defeating the purpose of the song as a historical narrative. The feminist movement will probably lynch me for that but, politics aside, I found Les Metamorphoses a challenging and worthwhile listen and recommend it accordingly.

John O’Regan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 110 of The Living Tradition magazine.