Born in Canada, Myriam Gendron sings in English and French, but her translation skills go beyond bilingualism. As a singer, guitarist and songwriter, she is a masterful musical performer, transforming the art of the past into a vision of the present. On his superb debut album, 2014’s Not so deep as a well, she sang poems by early 20th century American writer Dorothy Parker to original acoustic guitar arrangements. It sounded both like a treasure of ancient folk unearthed and the fresh, immediate expression of a new voice.
Two years later, Gendron has an even more ambitious idea: to reinvent traditional music from Canada, France and America. The concept was born from the discovery of “At the heart of my delirium”, a Quebecois tune taken up by Dominique Tremblay and Philippe Gagnon on their 1971 album. Present With The Stainless Steel It Rolls. During a week-long residency in an old Quebec mill, she recorded her own voice and guitar version, accompanied by sounds of nature, the work of the mill and her then two-year-old daughter. A few years later, supported by a writing grant, she chose more traditional works to cover, merged some into hybrid pieces, and created originals inspired and sometimes even borrowed from other works of the past.
Like its predecessor, Ma Délire – Love songs, lost and found is as much a new step forward as a meditation on the past. This quality is due to Gendron’s impressionist approach to his material, which exudes respect but never serves as a simple tribute. On one track, “Poor Girl Blues”, she combines one of the oldest blues songs, “Poor Boy Long Ways From Home”, with the 1800s song “Un Canadien Errant” (“A Lost Canadian”), originally on the banishment of French Canadians and famous cover by Leonard Cohen in 1979. Singing in French, she weaves a story of lost family, lost friends and a lost country on a guitar plucked by a nodding finger head in all historical directions at once.
Transformation abounds My Delirium. Gendron remakes two songs by American folklorist John Jacob Niles, including “I Wonder As I Wander”. It is essentially a Christmas carol, but Gendron removes the religious aspects to create a secular elegy in the power of love. On two versions of “Shenandoah”, a 19th century sailor’s song, one instrumental, the other almost a capella, she transforms the story of a fur trader into a universal hymn to nature. Even on originals such as “The Girl in Tears” (“The Girl in Tears”), she adapts the lyrics of several traditional songs into a wandering rumination; with her hesitant electric guitar and Chris Corsano’s accentuated drums, she evokes a lost track from Dirty Three.
According to Gendron, what unites the crossed tracks through this album of 15 tracks and 76 minutes are the eternal themes of love and desire. But just as important is Gendron’s own voice, a distinct and clear tool that works on many levels. With patient deliberation and gut-level resonance, she often sounds as though she is simultaneously singing a children’s song and portraying a complex emotion. Some singers tackle similar territory – think of the way David Berman spoke and sang at the same time, the way Daniel Johnston handled serious matters with childish wonder, or the way Haley Fohr uses low tones to vibrate. his music – but Gendron’s haunting intonation has no exact parallel. Her voice is often both frank and enigmatic, grounded and limitless.
This combination makes “Adieu” one of the few originals on My Delirium, the quintessential Gendron song. It has a simple melody and story, sung like a conversation between two characters: one waving, the other hesitant. But listen again and uncertainties set in: is everyone hiding something? Why does Gendron drop some lines like footnotes but repeat others like mantras? Does the conclusion of the dream make the whole story a mirage? Ultimately, “Farewell” is a mystery, with a lot to grasp but no definite center to hold. In this way, he sums up Gendron’s music: openly about its themes and sources, but reaching depths far beyond the sum of his inspirations.
Buy: Crude Trade
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