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Matapat
Petit Fou
Borealis (www.borealisrecords.com)

Matapat is a Quebecois trio that I've had the privilege of seeing live on visits to the US and Canada, consisting essentially of accordion, stringed instruments and bass, with plenty of foot percussion - accordionist Benoit Bourque is also a spectacularly good step dancer. While their musicianship is excellent in all aspects, what really gives them their distinctive sound is the strikingly inventive bass playing of Simon Lepage who - perhaps because he has no drummer corralling him in the rhythm section - has developed a highly flexible style running from muscular slap-bass funk that wouldn't have disgraced George Clinton's band, to dexterous forays along the melody line.

Matapat specialize in traditional call-response songs, interspersed with the driving dance tunes you'd expect from a Quebecois band, but Petit Fou sees them pushing the envelope a little. Most boldly, on "La Vielle Galope" the strange modal melody inspires them to marry traditional mouth music with tablas and classical Indian vocals by Vinai Bhide, which could have been an ill-judged gimmick but in fact hangs together well to create a trance-like, other-worldly atmosphere. Balkan influences make themselves felt through a bouzouki solo on "Sire Le Roi," prompted again by the modality of the original Quebecois melody, while on "Par Un Dimanche Au Soir Cape Breton" superstar J. P. Cormier adds his tricky flat-picked guitar to give a hint of Nashville. There are in fact more than a few guest musicians around the place, with hurdy-gurdy and piano turning up here and there, and Laura Risk taking a lot of the fiddle parts while band front man Gaston Bernard tends to set his bow aside to concentrate on guitar and mandolin. Risk is a terrific player and the crunching double-fiddle opening of "La Vendée" is stirring stuff, but occasionally the profusion of guests leaves me with a slight sense of puddings getting over-egged, not least when the drum kit kicks on "Par Un Dimanche." The boys do, after all, make a pretty good noise as a threesome. That aside, this is a really enjoyable CD, not least because the melodies of the songs are memorable, and sung unpretentiously but with soul ("L'Amuser De Fille"), while the dance tunes pack the punch you hope for, and Benoit Bourque's waltz "Soupir De St-Albans" is a beauty. Le Petit Fou is subtle and many-layered, and will repay repeated listening. - Brian Peters


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