Laurence Hélie

Another slice of sweet Quebec Country-Folk… sigh…

"À présent le passé" ("Right now the past") is Quebec singer-songwriter - and fellow lefty (see, us lefties have a naturally artistic bent) - Laurence Hélie's follow-up to her 2010 award winning eponymous debut album. (And I can't help but notice that Chantal Archambault's debut album "La romance des couteaux" was amongst the nominees…)

Whereas her debut album nailed its colours unashamedly to a Western-tinged Country mast, "À présent le passé" is a far more ambitious affair. To be sure there's still a country influence, but this time around there's an encompassing feel for pop, folk, jazz and blues. The end result is a far more expansive and accessible affair.

The title is very much a description of the musical road this album has taken. While the songs are very much of today ("Right now") and mine that rich seam of contemporary French-Canadian folk, there's a solid foundation ("the past") in the rich heritage of Americana - country, and the aforementioned folk and blues - that is evident through-out.

The album is very cleverly constructed; the opening title track has that familiar country undertone, only matched by a passionate vocal performance, that gives the impression of a linear progression from her 2010 debut.

By the second track however, "De tout et de rien", the jazz and folk roots are definitely making themselves heard. There's a great snare percussion and double-bass beat that permeates throughout the track, while the song gives Laurence a chance to admirably demonstrate her vocal range.

As hinted above, there's a great mix of tempos and styles running throughout. "Fille western et chasseur de primes" ("The cowgirl and the bounty hunter") is a wonderfully upbeat number - chock with references to "old movies and videos" - and as it appears that every great record coming out of Quebec this year has at least one absolutely nailed-on haunting ballad, so this album is no exception. In fact there are two on display here: The melancholic and semi-autobiographical "trente ans" and "La rivière" - all piano intertwined with snare and base (again), which has rapidly embedded itself into my subconscious. It really is a beautiful arranged and soulful song.

Released at the beginning of the month on Simone Records (home to - amongst others - Marie-Pierre Arthur and the absolutely incredible Forêt, "À présent le passé" is an accomplished album containing ten polished gems from an artist expanding her musical horizons with some panache...