Review: Boreal Tordu’s new release is a celebration of life
RANGELEY - It has been noted that my contrarian attitude could be self-defeating. And once again, the lesson is learned. When everyone else was taking French in high school (dude, the French Club gets to go to Montreal!). I, in my youthful infinite wisdom, chose to learn Latin.
Like I was going to be a priest? Visit the Vatican?
So now, here I am. Standing in line at Rangeley’s Lakeside Theater to listen to a band play Acadian music and it’s not like I don’t know what I'm in for. The announcement is in Acadian French, and the backdrop to the stage is the flag of Acadia, red, white, blue. And the gold star of St Mary. We're not in Kansas anymore.
The music is being presented by Boreal Tordu, which very roughly translated comes to “northern twist,” although even that's not right. More on that later. The group consists of four talented musicians, although that seems as understated as, well, like saying that there are four directions on a compass. It's not quite that straightforward (remember that whole “northern twist” thing?).
The first song out is a brisk run of fiddle from Steve Muise, with Robert Sylvain’s dobro coloring outside the lines alongside. Muise’s legs bounce and step with marionette playfulness as his feet tap a rapid rhythm. Pip Walter ripples in and out with fluid runs on acoustic guitar while Andy Buckland plucks a bouncing backbone of upright bass. I know enough French to gather that there’s a “oui oui oui” and a “no, no, no” discussion going on.
It turns out to be the title song for their latest CD “Le Chevalier,” slated for official release in mid-September. Playful, exuberant, and passionately rich in history, “Le Chevalier” is as good a definition of Boreal Tordu as you can get.
For those fortunate enough to attend the concerts at Skye Theater and Lakeside Theater this past week, the upcoming release of “Le Chevalier” was available at the show for purchase as a unique “pre-release” compact disc. The official release will contain full lyrics and other packaging. The music remains the same.
“Le Chevalier” finds a band paying homage to the music of their forefathers, and then jumping off that structure, writing and singing of contemporary history and current issues. It's an innovative way to show the common threads that hold families together, that split societies apart, the story of humanity that (for good or bad) doesn't seem to change a whole lot. While doing so, Boreal Tordu also presents the missing history of the Acadian people, (the details of which can be read in the well-researched book “A Great and Noble Scheme” by John Mack Faragher).
Just one clear example is a song titled “J'ai Vu le Loup” (I will not attempt to remember the translated title). What is interesting is that the song exists in two forms, one in Acadian, another in “Cajun” (what Acadians are called in Louisiana). The Acadian version is in a minor key, the Louisiana “Cajun” in a major key. One sad, one celebratory. How that one song, which originated in the Breton area of France took on two aspects in America, could fill a book.
However, the concert and the CD are far more than a historical time machine. The contemporary lyrics of Sylvain and the musical explorations of Muise are all here as well. From “Gigue pour Marcel” by Muise, to a wonderful song about Kerouac by Sylvain (“Ti-Jean”), Boreal Tordu refuses to play the same old jig until you reel.
They write music, they write lyrics, they take their musical base and push and pull it. What was compelling for me in this concert (and in the CD) are the songs that bring contemporary weight to music that seems timeless. The narcotic (and false) security of a life working at the same job for years (“Paper Mill”) is as dark a song as Springsteen's “Youngstown.” Sylvain's “Lewiston,” on the controversy over Somali immigration, is a principled, simple song about America. That willingness to speak and sing about the realities is refreshing.
But I'm forgetting the fun part. And oddly, that's where it really is. A Boreal Tordu concert is a kind of life lesson. The troubled history is there and must be known. You can't shoo it under the rug. On the other hand, it should not prevent you from the joy that is in your life. That should be celebrated. And there's plenty of celebration in “Les Chevaliers.” From the bawdy title song, to the crazy station-wagon drag race of “Saulnierville Station,” the comfortable love of “Les Bons Temps Waltzer” and some from their back catalog (“La Bonne Vie,” “Passe La Ville,” “Milltown Belle”), the bottom line for Boreal Tordu seems to be “life is crazy, twisted, unbelievable.”
Boreal Tordu is:
Robert Sylvain: voice, dobro, spoons, horseshoes
Steve Muise: fiddle, voice, accordion, feet
Pip Walter: guitar, voice
Andy Buckland: upright bass, voice
Concert listings and other information can be found at www.borealtordu.com