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Sound Bites — Francophone folk and rock roundup

Vishtèn has produced four superb albums beginning with their self-titled debut in 2003, introducing the rest of us to the delights of the music of Maritime Canada, Prince Edward Island-style. For their fifth, Terre Rouge or “Red Earth,” they spent some time going back to their roots and digging deeper into their musical heritage.

Vishtèn is sisters Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc, who hail from PEI, and Pascal Miousse from the Magdalen Islands, a part of the Province of Quebec in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The music of both places is a heady stew combining Celtic and Acadian influences. In preparation for Terre Rouge Miousse, who plays fiddle, mandolin and guitar, spent some time deepening his skills with some top fiddlers from PEI. Likewise Emmanuelle, who plays many instruments and provides percussive Québécois-style footwork, put in some time with the fabulous step-dancer Sandy Silva. And Pastelle, who plays keys and sings, worked closely with historian and archivist Georges Arsenault to deepen her skills in Canadian-style mouth music, which draws on Celtic, French and Micmac (a Northeastern Canada First Nation). You can see Silva’s footwork influence in this demonstration video from the band’s website.

That extra work has paid off in a collection of songs and tunes that have lots of extra sparkle and joie de vivre. The opening title track, which is heavy on guitars and mandolin, is a very Cajun-sounding song, down to the chorus, which starts “allons dancer, ma jolie,” (“let’s dance, my pretty one”) a line you’ll find in about half of the Cajun songs ever written. The next, an instrumental titled “Coq du Sud,” is a reel featuring a lead accordion plus fiddle, piano and foot percussion, on a tune and arrangement that are strongly influenced by Cape Breton music, as are some other tracks including the lovely “Hélène,” an uptempo song with superb fiddle work and impeccable three-part harmony vocals.

You can hear the results of Emmanuelle’s woodshedding with Sandy Silva on tracks like “Trois Blizzards,” her rock-inflected footwork driving the fiddle-piano tune; and, more subtly, on the jaunty mid-tempo French song “Ma Mie Tant Blanche,” which has a very nice bluesy guitar solo and sweet flute lines. Pastelle’s mouth music is matched by the fiddle on the melody of “Je Vous Aime Tant.” This is one of my favorites, because it showcases all three musicians’ skills including some superb rough-edged fiddle, and driving piano and footwork that push the tempo. According to the one-sheet this one was cobbled together from an Upstate New York tune plus verses and a chorus that come from two separate songs. And don’t miss the final track “Sarazin,” which showcases the “crooked” Acadian fiddling style.

Terre Rouge and all of Vishtèn’s albums are worth checking out if you’re a fan of Celtic or Québécois music. They put a spin on these traditions that is all their own. You’ll find lots of information on Vishtèn’s website in English or French.