Mon, Aug 6, 2012.
I don't know of any other boxed set of an Acadian artist. Perhaps there's some obscure collection of Cayouche videos out there, but this is a first as far as I can tell. Fittingly so as well, as 1755 still hold the crown as the most popular act of Acadie. The set doesn't include any fabulous bonuses, rare cuts, demos or such; it's just the bare-bones basics, the three studio albums the group recorded in the '70's and 80's. The first two are the well-known ones, 1755 and Vivre a la Baie, and the third is the more obscure Synergie, recorded in the early 80's, but not released until the 90's, under the title Yous'que t'es rendue. This being the 35th anniversary of the group, it's a good time to put everything under one roof.
For those unfamiliar with the story, 1755 came along at the exact right moment, a time of great strides for the Acadian culture. What was missing in this flowering was a group young people could follow as their own, and 1755's live shows, especially in the Moncton-Dieppe area became the stuff of legends, with lineups down the street to see them play. The band's very name was a call to cultural pride, but instead of political numbers, the group led the charge the same way Acadians had protected and nurtured the culture for decades, by holding a great big party. When the debut album hit the streets in 1978, the party spread all over the region, packed with good times, and not a few lightening bolts of change. Suddenly, you could hear Chiac proudly incorporated into lyrics ("le highway"), and Acadian place-names filled the songs.
Best known of the bunch were the novelty numbers, equal parts laugh and dance numbers, C.B. Buddy and U.I.C. But also there was superb musicianship, and new elements that hadn't come into Acadian music before. Opener Hallo Joe, while a traditional instrumental, now had clarinet mixing with the fiddle, classical with the folk. There were sophisticated songs, with jazz elements, bringing to Acadian youth music what Harmonium had done in Quebec. And above all, there were the words, often by the Acadian poet Gerald Leblanc, speaking directly to this now stronger, outspoken culture, mostly with pride of place, best exemplified on Rue Dufferin.
1979's follow-up, Vivre a la Baie, upped the ante, moving outside Moncton and taking the songs around the region (Kouchibouguac, Baie-Ste.-Marie). There were more intricate songs as well, including the opener La gang arrive, a beautiful number. J'ai passe toute la nuit d'boute was a Dixieland/Acadian hybred, with its swinging clarinet. All seemed to be going in the right direction, until the very end, when the tongue-in-cheek Disco Banjo forced you to deal with this current trend. While it may have been funny in the club, and a good show-off tune for the instrumentalists, it's not something you need to hear more than once.
Those two classic albums are not above criticism, certainly weren't the best-produced albums, and not every song worked as well as others, but 35 years later, that's not the point. Far more important than minor criticism is the historic and cultural importance of the pair. Virtually every Acadian act, and the continued sound of most Acadian popular music, owes a significant level of debt to the group. Plus, they were on their own making these records, with no professional recording industry to speak off in the area to influence them. Groundbreakers, for sure.
Alas, such positivity cannot be extended to the failed sessions that produced the Synergie album. While there are a number of decent tracks, the whole disc is mired in awful 80's production, mostly way too clean, and way too sweet. And there's a synth. Lots of it at times. While Leblanc returned to offer fine lyrics, and a couple of numbers showed the musicial melange they had developed of jazz, folk, and country, most notably Samedi soir and J'monte a Moncton, it's no wonder these tapes sat unheard for 15 years. You can strip-mine a couple of numbers for your mixtape.
It's a handsome little box, and includes a great tribute essay from the province's former Lieutenant-Governor, the band's cultural contemporary Hermenegilde Chiasson. I would think for a lot of people, this set would find a place of pride on the mantel, and probably get pulled out for a lot of kitchen parties too.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).