Adventurers in Acadia
New Year resolutions are often attempts at reclaiming our older selves, shoring up the best memories of who we used to be. So how appropriate it feels at the start of 2019 that many folk music projects are reconnecting with older cultures and languages, re-energising them with electrifying voltage. This month alone, the Spell Songs project is taking place in Herefordshire, where Julie Fowlis, Karine Polwart, Kris Drever and others are weaving new music out of Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’s popular The Lost Words book, which remembers disappearing expressions. The last touches are also being put to the promising Oran Bagraidh album (out 2 February), in which an extraordinary collective featuring Gwyneth Glyn and Welsh duo Bragod celebrate the forgotten language of Galloway Gaelic.
This January also gives us the sixth album from Vishtèn, a long-standing traditional trio from Canada’s eastern reaches, featuring twin sisters Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc and Pascal Miousse; they play fiddle, guitar, accordion, mandolin, Celtic instruments such as the bodhràn, and sing. They celebrate Acadian music culture, which began when French settlers arrived in the so-called New World in the 17th century, and continued in America’s southern states, where it morphed linguistically and culturally into the glorious sonic soup that is Cajun.
All three players dig into these deep, twisted roots, but also deliver melodies and rhythms that make clear their more mainstream, searching ideas. Elle Tempête is bright, Radio 2-ready trad with a contemporary alt sheen, its direct attitude recalling artists such as Neko Case. Fleur du Souvenir’s harmonies glow against shivering violins and a 70s Fleetwood Mac organ line. So do the backing vocals and fingerclicking poise of the deliciously titled Bi Bi Box.
Not all of Vishtèn’s adventures work: L’Autre Femme feels like a strange folk facsimile of some over-earnest mid-80s jazz-soul, while Les Sirènes à Roméo sounds like an outtake from a questionable ambient album of the same period. But there is energy elsewhere creating rivulets that keep on rippling out, and dipping a toe becomes irresistible.
The trio deliver bright, Radio 2-friendly trad with a contemporary alt sheen
This month’s other picks
VRï ’s Tŷ Ein Tadau, an album revisiting Welsh traditional music in beautiful new ways (the gorgeous Aros Mae’r Mynyddau Mawr made this Swansea girl well up). Dressed like a perfectly madeup Puppini Sister on the cover of Those Who Roam, Scottish singer Claire Hastings punts for the nostalgic mainstream with her second album, full of cocoawarm traditional and original journeying songs. Jude Rogers