If you’ve been to Prince Edward Island or the Magdalen Islands, it makes sense that a band from the former would pay homage to the distinctive red sandstone soil one sees everywhere. The rising trio Vishtèn reminds us, though, it’s not just potatoes that germinate in that red dirt. The titular “Terre Rouge” is the opening track, but its chorus – Allons danser ma jolie – is a lover’s invitation to dance. It’s one of many dance tempo songs on the album. Although there is no clogging on this one, you’ll hear plenty of moving feet throughout.
Updating tradition is a Vishtèn staple, and one hears that to wonderful effect on “Ma mie tant blanche,” a catchy song, but also one in which the mix of smooth presentation and clogging sounds old and new at the same time. PEI is a small place in size, but not culturally. Vishtèn honor its variegated cultural roots – Acadian, Micmac, Irish, Scottish, Breton, Magdalen Islanders – and wrap those musical traditions in a bright wrapper that has the heft of tradition but the exuberance of pop. Another song that illustrates this is “Coeur en Mer.” It takes a tried and true folk motif – a woman disguised as a man to be with her sea captain husband – opens with thumping beat, frames Pastelle LeBlanc’s vocals within a crisp mandolin run from Emmanuelle LeBlanc, adds some bodice-tight harmonies, tosses in some mouth music, and allows the tune’s pulsing beat and joyful melody to dance on the decks.
Not all is mirth, though. Those who live in the East will recall the winter of 2015 as a rough one. Vishtèn instrumentally recreate its feel in “Trois Blizzards,” with Pascal Miousse’s fiddle notes dashing about like gale-driven snowflakes. Feet tap as if trying to drive the cold winter away, and then comes some penny whistle that’s somewhere between hope and melancholy, but maybe just a touch more of the latter. Vishtèn also strike a pensive pose on “Valse á Alonzo.” LeBlanc’s deliberate accordion is somewhere between Parisian-style ennui and a tantalizing suggestion it might squeeze out a joyous waltz if fancy strikes. Need further mood adjustment? You’ll think PEI imported swamp water and perhaps a gator or two when Vishtèn go Louisiana style fais-do-dos on “Joe Féraille,” a tune collected by John and Allan Lomax in 1934. But don’t worry; they round off the superb Terre Rouge with something closer to home – a set of “crooked tunes” (those that dispense with regular rhythms as dancers or local customs dictate). They only had to cross the Confederation Bridge and borrow these from New Brunswick.
I recall seeing Vishtèn for the first time just two years ago, but in this short span they’ve become one of my favorite bands, and thoughtful projects like Terre Rouge explain why.
— Rob Weir