La Bottine Souriante,
En Spectacle
(Mille Pattes, 1996)

La Bottine Souriante -- along with Venezuela's Un Solo Pueblo and the Basque Country's Oskorri -- is to me the band that best epitomizes roots music. These bands have sustained musical excellence and made a profound social impact in their communities, over not just years but decades. All three delve into their country's heritage for inspiration and make those traditions fresh and new. (In a Google search for "Best roots band in the world," LBS is the first reference -- Dirty Linen famously called them "the best BAND in the world.")

The venerable Quebec folk group collected some of the most impressive songs of its first 20 years of recordings (and more than 2,000 live shows) on this live recording. En Spectacle is LBS is at its very best -- very good indeed.

The majority of the tunes come from earlier albums Y'a Ben du Changement, Les Epousailles, Chic & Swell, La Traversee de l'Atlantique, Tout Comme au Jour de l'An, Je Voudrais Changer d'Chapeau, Jusqu'au P'tites Heures and finally a few licks from La Mistrine, with three new tunes added.

But this is no rehash. The old songs and reels are given new settings, new energy, even new titles. LBS's brassy sound of the 1990s is featured on some songs originally done with their straight traditional treatment, including the opening "Ouverture" medley. "Je Voudrais Changer de Chapeau (I'd Like to Change My Hat)" becomes simply "Chapeau" and features a jazzy piano riff. "Sur la Route" is an adaptation of "La Tapinie," perhaps one of the greatest folk songs ever to come out of the Ottawa Valley, but instead of a log drive, it is now about a folk band on the road.

"Sur la Montagne du Loup" becomes "Chu pas Capable" and is every bit as good, if not better, than the original. The trombone accompanies Michel Bordeleau's mandolin on the excellent instrumental "Le R've Musical."

Former band member Gilles Cantin returns to sing "Le Voyage de Basile" (formerly "Les P'tits plaisirs de Basile"), which ends in a rousing reel. Some songs are left fairly unadorned and sound much like the originals. From the album of old-time Christmas and New Year's party songs Tout Comme au Jour de l'An, an album with a flavour of its own, come "Le Poule a Colin" (now "Le Lanlire," with some lively piano) and "La Cuisiniere." On "Son P'tit Bidoulidou," singer Yves Lambert concludes the album with a nearly naughty a cappella number.

Lambert -- group leader, singer and accordionist -- has an almost visible presence. Singing in his irrepressible Quebecois accent, perfect for this material, Lambert is an ideal frontman. Bordeleau taps out the rhythms with his feet (even adding a foot percussion solo in "Sur la Grand Cute") and adds violin, guitar and other instruments. Martin Racine (violin, guitar and voice), Denis Frechette (piano, guitar), Regent Archambault (bass), Jean Frechette (sax, flute), Robert Ellis, Andre Verrault (trombone), Jocelyn Lapointe (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Cantin (vocals) round out the ensemble.

This live recording takes on new life with every listen. It has all the energy of a live performance of this fine band during their most creative period, and is worth a buy -- but what CD by this band isn't?

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 10 July 2004

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