Click to hear: “La Bonne Vie”
Boréal Tordu is a quartet of Maine musicians playing material commonly called French-Canadian music. In its press materials, the band makes the point that this is really the music of Franco-American culture, the tunes of New England mill towns and coastal communities on both sides of the border — “Acadian folk, Cajun swing, maritime ballads, crooked fiddle tunes and foot-stomping French dance music.”
Boréal Tordu pull off all these styles and more on their highly likeable, debut full-length, La Bonne Vie, released earlier this month.
Guitarist and Dobro player Rob Sylvain has been performing and recording music on the Portland scene for many years. His relatively newfound passion for this music brought him together with fiddler and accordion player Steve Muise (the album lists Muise’s instruments as “violin,” “button box” and “feet” – presumably his own). Pip Walter, of The Piners fame, is on bass and vocal harmonies, and percussionist Ron Bonnevie rounds out the group’s sound with a variety of clicking and clacking instruments.
La Bonne Vie opens with its title track, a catchy, rollicking number co-written by Muise and Sylvain. Sylvain does an impressive job singing in his non-native tongue. You can catch the American accent in his delivery, but again, that’s partly the point – this is the music of French Americans.
Shades of American music show up on several tracks, like the bluesy licks on Sylvain’s “Passe La Ville,” the shuffling jazz tempo of “Thibeault,” and the pop sensibility of the vocal harmonies on “Compte tes Enfants,” a beautiful song penned by Adèle St-Pierre, who contributes backing vocals.
Muise is a fine fiddler and songwriter. Three instrumental compositions on La Bonne Vie are Muise originals, and all sound as old as the hills. His turn on the “button box” for the traditional “Le Retour des Hirondelles” is spirited, but on the down-tempo “Le Voyageur,” a sad yet hopeful song about a young man from a fishing village feeling homesick in the city, Muise’s accordion sets the perfect sighing tone. The a cappella ditty “Turlotte d’avril,” another Muise composition, closes the album on a fun note.
— Chris Busby