On her fine new collection of soulful vocal music, La Violette, St. Albans native Michèle Choinière demonstrates once again that traditional French music in North America is not the sole property of Louisiana Cajuns and French Canadians.
Choinière employed a pair of backing bands for the new album, both of which include some talented local musicians. The first combo features Québecois accordion master Sabin Jacques and ace pianist and vocalist Rachel Aucoin. This marvelous couple also played on Choinière’s 2003 recording Couer Fragile, and are core members of the popular Canadian dance band Raz-de-marée (Tidal Wave).
Combo number two is composed of three darlings of Vermont’s “gypsy jazz” revival: seasoned mandolinist, bassist and composer Will Patton, hot guitarist Dono Schabner and David Gusakov, one of Vermont’s great all-around fiddlers and violinists. Members of this dangerous musical trio have performed and recorded individually or together with a veritable who’s who of fine local musicians, including Patti Casey, Lewis Franco, Anna Patton, Pine Island, Banjo Dan and the Mid-nite Plowboys and, of course, the Will Patton Ensemble. It’s also a great pleasure to hear Fabio Choinière, Michèle’s dad, who adds a bouncy harmonica line on “Par un Samedi Matin” — a song that, according to a very reliable source, was sung at Michèle’s parents’ wedding!
But enough with the side musicians, and on to the chanteuse. Michèle Choinière sings with confidence and authority on this recording, whether she is trading spirited call-and-response lines with Aucoin, as on “Legérment, Je Veux M’en Aller,” or warbling and purring through Edith Piaf classics such as “Padam Padam” or “Tu es Partout.” Her lovely voice is right out front where it belongs, and repeated listenings reveal pleasant little vocal surprises throughout the CD.
Choinière’s wise choice of accompanists leaves her free to sing jazz, bounce through soirée chanson or beloved traditional songs from her family at will. La Violette is valuable both as source material for listeners researching traditional Québecois vocal styles and for fans of French-language singing.
It’s fitting that Choinière wraps up the disc with a gorgeous rendition of “Rame, Rame Rame Donc,” a song made famous by her mentor, Martha Pellerin. Pellerin was a champion of French traditional music in Vermont who dedicated her life to teaching generations of young Franco-Americans about their French musical heritage. Choinière is creating her own traditions on La Violette, as well as nurturing the “good old musical ways.” She is truly a Vermont musical treasure. Merci et félicitations, Mademoiselle Choinière!