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VISHTÈN - Terre Rouge

VISHTÈN - Terre Rouge
Private Label PTVISH05 

I confess to having a bit of a soft spot for this threesome from Prince Edward Island. Firstly, they do pretty much everything as an unaided trio, which must be hard work. Secondly, they represent and reinvent a minority style, even within Canada's traditions: the music of Acadie, the French-speaking fringes of Atlantic Canada, the roots of the Cajun tradition, now blended with Celtic and other influences. And thirdly, Vishtèn put everything into their music, including the kitchen sink: sad or happy, fast or slow, it's brim full of heart and soul. Or soles, in the case of Emmanuelle LeBlanc, whose dancing feet add to her mastery of whistles, mandolins, vocals, piano, bass, bodhrán and jaw harp. Her twin sister Pastelle adds accordion, as well as vocals and mandolin and more. The third member, Pascal Miousse, also sings and plays guitar and mandolin, but his biggest contribution is on fiddle.

Somehow Vishtèn have managed to take all the best elements of North American French music, and put them together to make a distinctive new sound which is totally true to their traditions but very appealing to a wider audience. Emmanuelle & Pastelle's Reel is a good example: written for the LeBlanc twins, and played brilliantly here, it has the "bon temps" bounce of Cajun music, the Celtic tinges of Québécois reels, and the bittersweet undertones of Acadian song melodies. Ma Mie Tant Blanche follows this up with a swampgrass stew of French ballad and flute solo, mixing songs and tunes in the classic French Canadian way. There's more of the funky urban Quebec sound on Je Vous Aime Tant, complete with turluttes and papillons. Normally seven songs in a dozen tracks would be too much for my taste, but somehow the intense arrangements and the sweet singing, and of course the French lyrics, carry me through. The pure instrumental numbers are an unalloyed joy, from the lazy Valse à Alonzo to the driving Chalet Groove. Most of the tunes here are the band's own, in various combinations, but the last couple of tracks are from traditional sources: the Cajun ballad Joe Féraille is given the full bayou treatment, followed by the medley Sarazine which apparently finds Vishtèn on the dance floor of a grimy low-down Montreal bar at closing time. That's Terre Rouge. Allez danser!

Alex Monaghan

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