Julie Aubé’s ‘Joie de vivre’ is not just force of soul and psychedelia, it’s an ode to Acadian Culture. Imagine a meeting between Alabama Shakes and Janis Joplin, except sung in the signature twang of Acadian French, ornamented with the kaleidoscopic jangle of early Francois Hardy and finally, caked in a layer of constant guitar propulsion. Picture this and you have a fairly good image of New Brunswicker Julie Aubé’s latest solo project.
The album, aptly titled Joie de vivre, sees the Moncton native dropping her typical folk styling, made popular in the three-piece, Les Hay Babies, for a smorgasbord of ’60s and ’70s sonic pallets. The end result is a stylistically diverse powerhouse of contemporary soul and R & B, tinged with churning waves of psychedelia and riffs of country and searing blues.
Boasting a roster that includes notable session musicians Marc Doucet, Christien Belliveau and Sébastien Michaud, as well as Nova Scotian blues giant Garrett Mason and Memramcook-based, crypto rocker Mike Trask. The album’s personnel list helps clarify its robust and constantly evolving sound and the ease with which it shape-shifts through mood and style.
The title cut opens up setting the tone, launching off with an upbeat flair, later dipping into slow-downs and breaks so sultry it is hard to not want find a lava lamp and groove. At times the guitar becomes so sweet and twangy it sounds like a high-distortion Theremin, moving with a uniquely blistering and moody force.
‘Dormir toute seule’ is undoubtedly one of the sexiest songs to come out of Canada in the last year, employing a solid backing of wa-wa and funk picking overlaid with Hendrix-like grooves that harken back the daze of ‘Electric Ladyland’. When Julie whispers “Faire pitié comme moi, faut que tu l’veuilles, y’a rien de pire que dormir toute seule” – roughly translated to “have mercy on me, you need to want it, there’s nothing worse than seeping alone” – one needn’t speak French to feel the goose bumps.
Conversely, songs like ‘Quand ’jdors pas’ and ‘Voir un homme’ bring the album into the territory of balladry, signalling a change of pace. The record’s second half slows down considerably having left all the firepower on the floor in its first act. It moves into slower numbers and a more blues- and country-oriented sound that flows with ease, yet in moments lacks the conviction of what preceded it.
With Joie de vivre, Aubé finds herself again at the forefront, not only of a group of incredibly talented and oft under-the-radar musicians making a place for New Brunswick, but also a small and dedicated Francophone collective championing the diversity of Acadian culture. Artists like Moncton rockers, Les Hôtesses D’Hilaire, Les Hey Babies, and of course Julie herself are participating in the reinvention of a long tradition of Acadian sound. Together, they are sketching the musical line of the Grand Expulsion and combating the long history of its minoritizing effects, twisting, morphing and recreating for new ears.
All but two of the album’s songs are sung in Chiac, a vernacular mix of French structures, English syntax and Indigenous influences, spoken in parts of New Brunswick since the 1960s. Chiac is often unfairly criticized for being neither “good” French, nor “good’ English and while her new album explores both the largely Anglo dominated psychedelic movement and the Yé-Yé sound of ’60s and ’70s France, a country at times cited for linguistic elitism, Aubé subversively asserts the imagination and legitimacy of her culture and language.
Although in moments it misses the octane of its ’60s inspirations, Joie de vivre is a lucid album—compelling, expertly arranged, fiercely creative and ultimately a testament to the resilience and pride of a rich, Acadian history.