Jim et Bertrand,
La Tete en Gigue
(Kebec, 1978; Audiogram, 1999)

Jim Corcoran and Bertrand Gosselin formed one of the most successful francophone folk duos of the 1970s. They produced first-rate acoustic music and were hugely popular in Quebec, France and Belgium. Both have gone on to solo careers -- Corcoran as a minor pop star in the province of Quebec and a radio host on Canada's CBC. My sense, however, is that Gosselin was the more creative of the two performers, though Corcoran had the better solo career. I've never heard anything in Corcoran's solo work that matches the Jim et Bertrand opus. It could be that this duo was simply greater than the sum of its parts.

The duo released four albums. Despite the popularity of this group in its day, these were impossible to find in stores for the better part of the '80s and '90s. The first two recordings were on minor labels. I did find the fourth, A l'Abri de la Tempete, on cassette. At any rate, the reissue of La Tete en Gigue (their third album) on CD in 1999 was a long-awaited event.

La Tete en Gigue, which won the prestigious Montreux folk album of the year award in 1978, features acoustic folk music at its best, with distinctive vocal harmonies and some fine classical and folk guitar. The languid style of the vocals contrasts nicely with peppy instrumental breaks. Gosselin's mandolin playing is wonderful in duet with Corcoran on guitar. The two men's voices blend well; the main distinguishing feature is that Corcoran sings in French with a very slight Anglophone accent. Both write French lyrics with a poetic touch.

The opening of this CD is very strong: two short but memorable offerings ("Ce Matin Sans Hesiter" and "La Belle des Champs") that have a madrigal feel to them. "Ce Matin" is sung mostly a cappella except for the intro, and, like most of the material, penned by Corcoran and Gosselin. These fine songs could be 300 years old, yet are less than 30.

"Welcome Soleil" is a classic that propels the listener back to the days of outdoor festivals on Montreal's Mont Royal or Quebec's Plains of Abraham, and conjures a whole era. "Sejour a Stoke" is a bit of vocal play (I don't know if you'd call it "doo-wop"), and Folie d'hier is a nod to bluegrass. "Remplis mon verre" is a 10-minute plus acoustic odyssey, written by Corcoran but with credit given to the musical ideas of Gosselin. "Miroir d'hiver" provides a gentle close to the album. The fine harmonies and instrumental duets throughout make this a special recording, meriting the recognition it received at the time.

The overall tone of the recording recalls the flower-power era of the mid-'70s without seeming dated. The only disappointment here is the length. The release of a short, 36-minute CD begs the question: why didn't they package the last two Jim et Bertrand albums, both recorded on the Kebec Disc label, as a set? There certainly wouldn't be any discontinuity in the overall sound. Both albums share fine production by Quentin Meek (great name!), which brings out the best in the two main performers. Indeed, the pensive "Femme Seulette," the guitar and mandolin duet "Esther," and the a cappella "Blanche Comme la Neige" from A L'Abri de la Tempete are among songs that still deserve to be heard. On balance, (and I may be alone in this), I actually like A l'Abri de la Tempete better.

For now, the very enjoyableLa Tete en Gigue is available again with the original French lyrics included.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 12 April 2003