Sound — 10
CANO originated in Sudbury, Ontario, in the early 1970s, the brainchild of Andre Paiement, who also introduced Northern Ontario to some of its cultural successes over the years, including the massive Northern Lights Festival Boreal, a concert series still running today, and the Theatre Du Nouvel-Ontario, currently located in College Boreal. The band is an eight-piece featuring Andre on vocals and acoustic guitar, along with sister Rachel Paiement, and Marcel Aymar. On electric guitar is David Burt, on bass we have John Doerr, Michel Dasti on drums, Wasyl Kohut on violin, and finally Mike Kendel on keyboards. Their sound is similar to bands like Rennaisance and Harmonium, very folk-oriented with hints of jazz, country, rock, and prog. "Au Nord De Notre Vie" may well be CANO's most prog-oriented album, following their folky debut "Tous Dans L'Meme Bateau" and preceding their first album with English lyrics, "Eclipse", which was released after Andre Paiement's suicide. The album opens with the song "Che-Zeebe", a folky homage to Northern Ontario's majestic rivers. The violin and acoustic guitar complement one another perfectly in this waltz-y tune, and sometimes it's hard to believe this band is an eight-piece with the production being as clean and clear as it is. The country music influences come in during the second track, "Automne", sung by Aymar, over a tapestry of acoustic guitar, dobro, and violin. Things start to kick into high gear on the third track, the epic "A La Poursuite Du Nord". Over the course of this song's ten minutes, they've covered almost all the ground you'll hear from this amazing band. Jazz, prog, folk, it's all there. Rachel's voice is magnifique on this track! It follows three movements, the first being the title track, and containing some very pleasant piano, vocal and guitar playing, building up to an epic climax before scooting off to the second movement, "En Mouvement", which is a very jazzy showcase that really shows John Doerr and his bass playing off. The final movement, "Viens Suivre", goes on a ride through piano and violin solos over a very Gordon Lightfoot-esque shuffle rhythm. Rachel has described the following track, "La Premiere Fois", as a song that's "more annoying than the HeadOn commercials!" This isn't the case, as the track is easily one of the better shorter pieces on the record, and one of the more rock-oriented pieces, with prominent electric guitar and steady drumming. Time signature shifts in the chorus add to the prog nature of the record, but don't really take anything away from the tracks. This is followed by yet another epic-length number, "Mon Pays", the most politically-charged lyric on the record, talking about the differences between Franco-Ontarian culture and Anglo-Ontarians. If you lived in my part of the world (these guys were from my hometown), you'd understand how big of an issue this can be sometimes. They pulled off the musical side of this track brilliantly, with a huge, lengthy solo section (most of which is on bass guitar!) and Rachel's massive vocal talent. The next track on the record is a cover, and if you're expecting it to be cheesy and overdone, you'd be wrong, even though it is "Frere Jacques" we're talking about. The band transforms this traditional children's song into a rousing jazz tune, allowing all of the members of the band to shine throughout. It's a really well-done arrangement, and it really changed my mind about this band, as I originally thought this wouldn't work out, but it's really something special. The final track on the record is the gorgeous instrumental "Spirit Of The North", which features some of Wasyl Kohut's finest violin playing. His playing often reminds me of Jean-Luc Ponty's, but much more lyrical. Of special note is the fact that all of the nature sounds in the track were recorded live on location near Manitoulin Island. This track is a perfect way to close the album. Overall, the sound of this record is nearly perfect. I can't really fault the album on anything but the first two songs, which I usually end up skipping for the sheer epicness that follows them, but you'd seriously be missing out on them if you did the same. If you're into folk-rock, 70s prog, jazz, or all of the above, I urge you to check this record out. It may be one of the finest Canadian records ever made.
Lyrics — 10
All of the lyrics on the album are sung in French (the last time CANO would do this on a record), but even the original vinyl record contained translations for all of the tracks. Being a Northern Ontarian band, the band naturally writes about issues that affected Sudburians then, and even today. Though the band would not write politically often, "Mon Pays" definitely outlines the anger and hopelessness felt by Franco-Ontarians at the time: "I feel that my country/will live no longer/My disunited country/I've known it/I've lived it, and it's been hard". But they also write lyrics about the beauty of the nature of the North, especially in the epic "A La Poursuite Du Nord", about a journey through dense Boreal forests and mighty rivers: "In the north of our lives/here, where distance wears down hearts/full of the mineral tenderness/of the land of stone forests and cold". All of the vocalists present on this record are truly amazing, especially Rachel Paiement, whose sultry vocals are one of the most endearing features of this band. Marcel Aymar's gravelly delivery seems older and wiser than he was in those days, making songs like "Automne" sound more like the later works of Gordon Lightfoot than a young folk band. Andre's vocals are more dramatic than Marcel's, and he sings less on this record, but his voice is still amazing on "La Premiere Fois". Even though the final track is an instrumental, I find the violin playing to be very lyrical, and is played almost as if it were singing. This is a very important quality in music to me, as I feel that the vocalist in a band isn't the only one who should be "singing", as it were. This track would never have benefited from the addition of vocals, so keeping it instrumental made it perfect.
Overall Impression — 10
This is one of those rare perfect-10 albums that very few people actually know about, and it's effective no matter your tastes, it seems. All of the elements on this record blend to make a truly amazing listening experience, and like a lot of my favourite records, noting ever feels contrived or out of place. This is truly eight musicians having fun and making music straight from the heart. The world needs more bands like CANO. Despite my perfect 10 rating, I would say that I do have a few minor complaints on the record. First off would be the song "Automne". It's a good song, but I always find myself skipping it. It's just not something that suits my tastes. But I don't feel this deserves lowering the score, as the track is solid and still does its best to showcase the talents of this incredible band. If you're a fan of jazz, prog, folk, country, blues, anything that isn't dripping in distortion and growling, then this album is sure to be for you. I also recommend the two albums adjacent to this in their discography, "Tous Dans L'Meme Bateau" and "Eclipse", which round out a trio of some of the best folk-prog albums ever made. A rare example of a record that actually deserves that perfect 10 score. Check it out.