Maybe it’s because I’ve lived most of my life close to the Ontario/Quebec border, or because I spent a chunk of my days in Canada’s only bilingual province, but there’s something about any work of art that flits seamlessly from one of our official languages to the other that I can’t help but enjoy.
Alexis Normand’s self-titled sophomore album has hints of those crossovers in her favour, weaving English verses and choruses into her beautiful French lyrics. Composed, in some cases, with contributions from Daniel Beaumont, Mathieu Lippé and Mélanie Noël, and produced by Montreal’s Marc Pérusse, the release is the songstress’s attempt to reach out to a Quebec audience and “reconnect with her Western Canadian fans.”
It’s been three years since those fans had a solo release from Normand, who at least put out Good Clean Fun in 2015 with her feminist band Rosie & The Riveters—though it’s doubtful they’d be disappointed. Normand’s jazz roots are on display from the opening notes of “Le vent dans le dos,” before easing into to a swaying, slapping western rhythm.
Her croon is in full effect on follower “Mauvais sort,” an evening number more at home in a classy basement bar than the saloon that might welcome its predecessor. But Normand is clearly comfortable in both, slipping between them as easily as she does languages in the moving back and forth with Daniel Lavoie on “Sing Me Home.”
Much like the quiet touches that pull “Sing Me Home” out from the rest, the strings on “Sans attentes,” recorded in Montreal without Normand, are another shattering moment on the captivating release—one that makes it easy to understand the emotional outpouring the recording and sharing of the instrumentals caused. Those notes soar and ache along with Normand’s voice, giving life to her imagery.
“Is this a war that can be won?” she cries out in “Il faut,” as the latter half of the album flows in and out of languages. Even on confessional “Tempête dans ma tête” Normand is full of poise and grace as the strings resume their harmony.
It’s an intimate affair at the close, the revealing “Sing Me Home” a stunning contrast between Normand’s gentleness and Lavoie’s raspy roar. Even the charming spring on “À Partir de toi” can’t entirely mask the introspection that leads the album to a quiet—if hopeful—end.
Top Tracks: “Sans attentes”; “Sing Me Home”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)