Imagine a cross between early Chicago and early Santana, with a rougher touch of blues and a dash of progressive jazz, all performed by no less than eight musicians at a time, although that number could climb up to 20. That was the Ville Emard Blues Band, a collective active around Montreal in the early to mid-'70s. The lineup featured lots of active session musicians (with Robert Charlebois and Raôul Duguay, among others) and members of Contraction, Toubabou, and Harmonium (Robert Stanley and Denis Farmer would join the latter to record the epochal L'Heptade). This two-CD set culls all of the group's recordings: its double LP Live à Montréal, its studio LP Ville Emard, and two singles. VEBB's biggest strength is also its biggest weakness: variety. The group could switch from folk-based progressive ballads to scorching blues-rock, from quirky jazz-rock instrumentals to world fusion and experimental jams. On record, this kind of multi-stylistic range may force you to skip a few tracks, although the band always managed to slip a few unexpected turns into the simplest three-chord romper. The best songs remain the ones relying heavily on percussion (the live set features three drummers and one percussionist) and the brass section, like "Soumis," "Kondy Donky," "La Poutine à Ma Tante Anna," and "Walter's Van" -- they all offer an update on Chicago's brand of brass-driven progressive blues-rock with a funk edge. The other highlights are the songs sung by Lise Cousineau (also the lead singer in Toubabou), namely the moving "Octobre (Au Mois de Mai)" and "Yama Nekh," plus Estelle Ste-Croix's "In Our Loneliness." Bill Gagnon's compositions often feature exploratory solos and unusual arrangements, including the rather free-form "Poirots Névrosés" and the Zappa-esque studio collage "Guess Who's Coming to Jam." Some listeners may prefer Rawn Blankley's simple blues-rock anthems, while others will relish the rhythmic complexities of a song like "Machine Infernale," featuring three different simultaneous drumbeats. Don't think of VEBB's music as Quebec progressive rock in the same vein as Morse Code, Pollen, Sloche, or even Harmonium. The group's sound is actually more proto-prog, with a strong blues basis. It is pretty unique, but not as striking as Toubabou, a funk-world fusion outfit that grew out of VEBB and released two albums, also reissued by the label ProgQuébec.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture