The new album from renowned Québécois trad trio Genticorum is a delightful romp through Québec and the global francophonie, anchored throughout by the tac-tic-a-tac rhythms of French-Canadian podorythmie (foot percussion). If you haven’t heard Québécois music before, Au coeur de l’aube (The Heart of Dawn) is the perfect introduction.
The songs are rich in the timbre of French-Canadian male voices, pulled from archives, old folios, even from Alan Lomax’s field recordings in Michigan. Entirely in French, infused with the twang of the Québécois dialect, you can hear the clear modality of medieval scales and harmonies, a leftover from the French homeland of the Québécois.
The subjects of the songs are anachronistic and universal at the same time, content to ruminate on the perils of young love and too much drink, but also preoccupied with strange tropes and themes from medieval France. Birds act as messengers of love, or vessels of human hope. Kings refuse young love, shepherdesses tempt men, sailors ruminate on riches and wealth, a boatwoman gets her revenge…and so much more.
Au coeur de l’aube marks Genticorum’s second full length album with a new lineup. They’ve always been a trio, but the past two albums welcomed bilingual New England singer, accordionist, and flutist Nicholas Williams. Williams’ voice meshes beautifully with fiddler Pascal Gemme and guitarist Yann Falquet. Each band member has a unique and beautiful singing voice, and it seems with the new album that the trio has worked harder than ever on perfecting the powerfully complex contrapuntal harmonies that mark French-Canadian song.
Along with these old songs, Genticorum presents wonderful tunes as well, both originally composed and traditionally sourced. Here, their arrangements as a band sparkle. Listen to Gemme’s tune “Old Yamaska” to hear the swell of harmonies from Williams’ accordion blend with his fiddling. Falquet’s guitar is a marvel throughout, strong, robust and full of heart. On a medley of tunes, “Le Persuadeur” (“The Persuader”), you can hear the trio cut loose as if for a late-night contredanse. Williams’ composition, “Le Brandy des montagnes noires” (“The Black Mountains Brandy”) is an excellent showcase of the famous “crooked” tunes from Québec that wind around strange time signatures (a “brandy” is a dance tune in 3 that’s played like a fast tune in a duple meter).
Still, it’s the songs on the new album that carry the real heart of the band. “Dans les haubans” (“In the Shrouds”) is a haunting song, taken from a Breton singer, that muses on forbidden love through the song of the robin and the sound of the rustling wind. “Ruban Rose” (“The Pink Ribbon”) is a traditional song about gardens and birds, carefully arranged with a lovely instrumental melody. The image of a ribbon floating through the wind, tossed by a young woman or bride, is a key trope in French-Canadian song and here the ribbon lands in the nests of different birds as a metaphor for young women (the song ends with the female birds musing that men aren’t worth the trouble). It’s curious that such metaphorical lyrics about love would come from a Québécois abbot, the source of the song.
“Le Batelière” is a delicious story of a boatwoman who rows a young man across a river, speaking of making love in a great mansion on the other bank. Once landed, she kicks him out and rows away, leaving him to lament toying with her heart (she took all his money too!). “Goutôns du plaisir” (“Taste the Pleasure”) is a marvelous demonstration of the rich harmonies of French-Canadian singing, set in a song that compares love to strong drink. “Drink deep of pleasure, dear comrades,” the trio sings, “it doesn’t last long. The dearest drink is that of love, and it’s best to drink deep to lighten our days.”
With this latest recording, it’s clear that Genticorum understands that sometimes the oldest songs have time tested wisdom, while the worries and loves of the distant past can echo in our present time, too.
Au coeur de l’aube is available HERE.