Grand Derangement,
Tournons la Page
(self-produced, 1998)

This 1998 release from Grand Derangement displays the band's Acadian roots with a variety of other influences -- Celtic, rock, folk and even a bit of country. These influences combine to produce a rather unique sound which will appeal to a good number of listeners, whether they understand the French lyrics or not.

Hailing from small villages along St. Mary's Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada, the album features Daniel Le Blanc (fiddle, guitar, bass and vocals), Briand Melanson (drums, percussion and vocals) and Jacques Comeau (keyboard and vocals). "Grand Derangement" is the French name given to the mass deportations of Acadians 18th-century Canada. As part of a treaty agreement between England and France, a large number of French-Canadians living in the maritimes (called Acadians) were sent en masse back to France.

In many places in Eastern Canada, however, there are still concentrations of Acadian people who have managed to maintain their distinct culture. A number of the songs on this recording express this culture in some way. With Tournons la Page (meaning "Turn the Page"), the band offers listeners a modern view of Acadian life and new tunes in traditional Acadian styles.

There's a good mix of material on the album -- from tunes to songs, uptempo to ballads -- and the band performs all types of music in an expressive and enjoyable way. "Y a jamais eu de grand derangement," which follows a spoken introduction to the album, seems to contain many of the album's elements in one song. Fiddle tunes, tempo changes, an a cappella vocal bit, strong percussion, good vocal harmonies, excellent keyboard playing -- it is all there. Much of the rest of the album features the same strong points, but in an expanded form.

The more upbeat songs on the album contain a variety of different influences. "Charlotte" reminds me of an old time rock 'n' roll song. It has a rather funky guitar style, along with some great piano bits and an energetic beat. "Mon nom c'est Cy a Mateur" is more reminiscent of a folk song. Its fast, waltzy beat conjures images of old men and their pint glasses swaying and singing along, and tells of the adventures of a certain Cy of Mateur who ... well, drinks like a fish, for one thing. I'm not sure if he was a real folk "hero" or if the band created him, but the song is catchy, and old Cy could be just about any barfly. "Mariette" has a hint of country about it, and I really enjoy the fiddle accents and keyboard solos. Comeau is an excellent, versatile keyboardist and brings a lot of flavour to the album.

When I first listened to "C'est un pays," I was reminded of a Quebecois folk song I'd learned in French class in high school. Well, I'm proud to say I'm not all crazy because, as it turns out, my high school French song actually did have an influence on this one. Both songs evoke the coldness of Canada -- and not just our weather, but of the ignorance toward French culture which is all-too-often present. Some fine keyboarding and guitar picking accompany the thoughtful lyrics.

On the slower side of things, "La nuit s'en vient" is a gentle tune with lovely guitar and fiddle strains and Melanson's soft, flowing vocals. "Baie Sainte Marie" is a nostalgic song with moving lyrics and a catchy tune. The instrumentals on this track are excellent, and I imagine that this one is a concert favorite -- I could easily picture hundreds of lighters floating back and forth in the air for this one. Even I, with my rusty French (and even rustier voice) found myself grabbing the liner notes and singing along. Another good slower song was "Plane un aigle," written as a tribute to the Mi'Kmaq Indians of Canada for their positive role in Acadian history. The beautiful sentiment contained in the song is reinforced with the well-blended instrumentals.

And speaking of instrumentals, there are a few instrumental tracks on the album as well. "J'ai la danse aux pieds" (or "I have the dance in my feet"), is an energetic tune, featuring guitar, keyboard and fiddle, along with some excellent percussion bits and vocal harmonies. "L'eveil" begins with a wonderful stepdancing beat before being joined by the instruments. Although not exactly a tune that makes me want to hop out of my seat -- tempo wise -- it has that characteristic Acadian energy, with amble accent and expression, making it a good listen, and definitely a toe-tapper. A few times, the guitar, keyboard and fiddle are all playing the melody together, which makes for a good sound. The only non-original instrumental piece was "Le rêve du djâble," which English-speaking fiddlers might know better as "The Devil's Dream." Grand Derangement do an excellent job with this one, with tempo increases and a good arrangement. LeBlanc's fiddling shines here, remaining clear despite the increases in speed -- something which a lot of fiddlers haven't yet mastered.

Grand Derangement delivers an interesting brand of music with Tournons la Page. The album contains a well-organized mix of professional, polished songs and tunes which fuse Celtic and Acadian traditions with a modern sound. It is not necessary to have a good understanding of French to enjoy this album -- the band puts enough emotion behind its music to speak for itself.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]