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Gilles Servat - La Blanche Hermine CD (album) cover


Gilles Servat


Prog Folk

3.96 | 4 ratings

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4 stars Growing up Anglophone in the Quebec of the 1970s was a unique experience, with the popular music culture embracing North America and Europe. I was particularly drawn to the folk influences among so many local artists, which amalgamated singer/songwriter protest music with the jigs and reels of Brittany and the Celtic lands in general. Somehow Brittany as a driver of Quebecois folk was not well advertised, for reasons which can be surmised but remain unspoken. Yet I have noted it with each "new" old Breton artist to cross my path, the latest, and perhaps most broadly influential, being GILLES SERVAT.

It is telling that "La Blanche Hermine" is the only one of his 1970s albums to have been made available on CD, and, while I haven't heard the others, I can attest that this is a definitive disk for both Servat and politically aware Breton folk, perhaps setting the bar at a subsequently unattainable level. It's not particularly progressive at first blush, until one considers the adaptation of fairly traditional, albeit thriving melodies, to more modern forms both lyrically and musically, with the lyrical aspects reflecting the mistreatment of the Bretons and their challenge in maintaining dignity and culture. No wonder the style resonated within Quebec at that time. It probably helped that he sings mostly in French, and when not, in Breton.

The title track refers to the white ermine which is the animal symbol of Brittany, and is a hard hitting and unrelenting romp in the manner of a GORDON LIGHTFOOT's "Home from the Forest" meets MOODY BLUES "Gypsy". "An Alarc'h" intersperses distressed monologue in that dramatic French prog tradition, with snare drum backed sung sections. "Les Proletaires" is another scathing indictment of the powers that be and their abuse of the honest worker, but not at the expense of a gorgeous arrangement and haunting tune which ebbs and flows like the labourer's heart. And can this man sing, in a suffusing baritone I can't get enough of, an antidote for winter chill if there ever was one! To strike a match in the darkness, we have "Les Bretons Typiques", more of a sing song, still accompanied by sumptuous 12 string guitars. "Me Zo Gannet" is notable for elegant hammond organ and is more reminiscent of what STIVELL was doing at that time than most of what's here. "Gwerz MaruPont Kallek" is a trad beauty which has been covered by almost everyone including STIVELL and KADWALADYR, the latter with whom he has guested.

"La Blanche Hermine" is a classic endeavour in every sense, and when we consider the worthwhile achievements of the likes of MALICORNE, STIVELL, TRI YANN, and DAN AR BRAZ among many others, the revelation is that Gilles Servat went a step further. He didn't just propel the culture by embracing it, but by giving it an assertive voice that one might choose to love or hate, but was compelled to respect.

kenethlevine | 4/5 |


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