Henri Band

Henri II

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It seems that Henri II will stand as Henri Band's crowning achievement. While the group's first album was completely self-produced, this one benefits from a larger budget. And despite the fact that Henri III would have even better production values, the writing peaked on this disc. The guys of Henri Band describe their own music as "rock campagnard," which literally translates to "country-rock" but means nothing of the sort. The music is first and foremost rock, but a rock that has absorbed elements of sea shanties, Quebec folk, and post-Pogues pub rock -- don't be surprised, but one of the group's members is an accordionist. The songs are hard-hitting, raw, not quite sober, and highly politicized. Singer Robert Simard roars and howls "arrrgh!" like an old sea lion, using caricatured low-brow pronunciation to give his stage persona more power (and added to his impressive height, it works very well). Propelled by a heavy rhythm section, accordion, and guitars (up to three at times), he tells his tales of love and booze while dreaming of a Quebec independent of Canada. "Conte d'Amour et de Boissons" ("Tale of Love and Drinks"), the leadoff track and Henri Band's first single to get some airplay, stands as one of the group's best songs. Besides a good melody, it features some very clever chord changes. "Aux Éboulements" and "Scène de Vie Quotidienne" get close to the essence of NRBQ, while "Au Pied de Mon Arbre" and "Sysiphe" bring the form of Quebec singer/songwriter anthems pioneered by Paul Piché back to the streets. Varied, inspired, and alternately fun and touching, Henri II stands the comparison with Montreal's best alternative rock bands, with similarities with WD-40 and Fred Fortin.

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