Album Review: La Bottine Souriante, ‘Domino!’

French Canada’s premier supergroup is back! The pre-eminent Québécois folk band since the late 1970s, La Bottine Souriante has led multiple folk revivals in Québec and has defined the ebullient music of this French province for almost fifty years now. With thirteen albums under their belt, a number of which have gone gold and platinum in Canada, it’s perhaps surprising that it’s been so long since their last recording, 2011’s Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée.

La Bottine Souriante is back in fine form now with Domino!, showcasing their signature sound of booming brass, percussive cross-rhythms, button accordion, fiddle-powered dance tunes, and roof-raising male vocal harmonies. As befits a globe-trotting powerhouse, they’re joined as well by some special guests: Irish accordionist Sharon Shannon, Italian accordionist Riccardo Tesi, and Swedish nyckelharpa player Erik Rydvall. But special appearances aside, the real star is the Québécois tradition itself. The tac tic-a-tac rhythms of the podorythmie, or seated foot percussion, underlie every track, and the band opens with a classic chanson à répondre (call and response song), “Tralala,” which offers rich harmonies and a lilted refrain.

The band’s name, La Bottine Souriante, means the Smiling Boot, a nod both to the working class roots of the music (the boot is smiling because the sole is separating on an old pair of boots) and the physicality of the music, as the players literally beat the rhythms into the floorboards.

Over many years, La Bottine Souriante has changed fundamentally a number of times. Moving from a fiddle and accordion driven folk band in the 70s and 80s, the 1990s saw a controversial decision to bring on bombastic brass and piano arrangements. The huge sound this mega-band created moved La Bottine Souriante to much larger global venues and lifted their profile around the world as ambassadors of the joie-de-vivre of Québécois music. It also showcased the innovative step-dancing of the American dancer Sandy Silva, who remains with the band today.

The early aughts saw the adoption of the band by the next generation of Québécois musicians, among them fiddler André Brunet of Le Vent du Nord, accordionist Pierre-Luc Dupuis, and multi-instrumentalist Eric Beaudry (both Dupuis and Beaudry are part of De Temps Antan). Beaudry remains in the band today, though the current lineup of La Bottine Souriante is mostly the same as that of their last album in 2011, featuring fiddlers David Boulanger (De Temps Antan) and Jean-François Branchaud.

With Domino!, La Bottine Souriante mines tradition for songs, from the English/French blend of the humorous story of love and buggies “La Wagine” to an ode to humble poverty in “Pas de crédit.” The call and response songs that originally stamped the sound of La Bottine Souriante are on display here as well, with the whole choir of male voices joining in behind each singer leading the song.

As is hinted by the name, dancing is a big part of the new album (“Domino” is a French square dance call: “Domino / Les femmes ont chauds”). “Le bal chez Jos Brûlé” brings these dance calls to life, resurrecting a song from 1970s Québécois songwriter and comedian Tex Lecor. In another nod to the chansonniers (singer-songwriters) of the 70s in Québec, a tongue-twister of a song from the great Gilles Vigneault, “Pour Oublier,” closes the album.

With nearly fifty years of legacy under their belts, La Bottine Souriante knows how to pay homage to the past while pushing towards new ideas and horizons. Welcome back!


Domino! is available HERE


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