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BARACHOIS - "Barachois" - Iona Recordings IRCD048

There are few "little joys" in our lives that can compare with the satisfaction we get from introducing friends to some wonderful new music. This self-titled recording from the dynamic new Acadian group Barachois falls squarely into that category.

Barachois hail from tiny Prince Edward Island, Canada's smallest province and a place where the Acadian traditions have been kept alive in kitchens and community halls through centuries. The musical style is more a tossed salad than a melting pot: one can recognize the original French roots but can also hear Quebecois influences, not to mention the audible impact of Scottish and Irish neighbours on an evolving culture. So while a few of the tunes may be familiar - for example, a set entitled "Les Deux John", with John Morrison's and Big John MacNeill - the distinctive Acadian rhythms give these old workhorses a whole new life.

While there are a few original cuts on the recording, for the most part we are listening to music kept alive through hundreds of years. In putting the material together, the group spent endless hours researching archives and listening to recordings of songs and tunes captured in kitchens and parlours by Acadian folklorists. The hauntingly beautiful "Le Vieux Soldat" (The Old Soldier), for example, can be traced back as far as 16th century France. Would that we could all be so fresh and alive in our third or fourth century!

The group includes Helene Bergeron, whose solid piano provides the rhythmic foundation for the music and betrays her stellar credentials in Acadian step-dancing; Albert Arsenault, Helene's brother who plays fiddle and a dazzling array of traditional percussion instruments, including beef bones, knives and forks, and popcorn shaker (we did say this was kitchen music!); Louise Arsenault, a wonderfully lyrical fiddler; and Chuck Arsenault, who plays guitar and a variety of brass instruments. Interestingly, only Bergeron and Albert Arsenault are related - they are children of the legendary Acadian fiddler Eddie Arsenault, and the bloodlines show in every piece.

Mention must be made of the delicate touch of producer Grey Larsen in all this. Well-known in folk circles for his talents on both sides of the glass, Larsen perfectly captured the excitement, humour, and joie de vivre that earns this group spring-loaded standing ovations wherever they play.

For those given pause by the fact that most of these songs are in French, rest easy. The liner notes offer complete translations, and the music itself transcends language. I like to slip this CD on midway through a party, and watch as the conversation slowly subsides and the toes start to tap. Sooner or later, someone always asks "What is that music? And how do I get hold of it?"

Ahhh ... the little joys of life.

Nils Ling

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This album was reviewed in Issue 21 of The Living Tradition magazine.