• May 16, 2024
  • aliashraf
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Myriam Gendron’s Mayday marks the obvious evolution of a songwriter who cut her teeth busking Leonard Cohen songs in the Paris Metro, whose 2021 release Ma délire – songs of love, lost and found reimagined traditional Quebec folk songs. These are direct, grounded dispatches from the collective unconscious, melodies for sweeping floors or felling trees or mourning that might have existed forever. Between her 2014 debut, Not So Deep as a Well, where Gendron put Dorothy Parker’s poetry to music, and the new record, the Montreal-based artist has sharpened her set of timeworn tools: voice and guitar strings, as fleet and restless as a sparrow in her hands.

Gendron’s voice is earthy and unadorned, a Swiss Army knife that can cut stoic or wistful. One part Fairport Convention and one part Josephine Foster, her warble takes songs like “Look Down That Lonesome Road” and roots them even more deeply in folk tradition, yielding a sound that would be just as at home blaring from a gramophone as it would a forest clearing. Within one listen of a song like “Terres Brulées” (“Burnt Earth”), you can sing the melody back, as if retrieving it from a buried memory. Lyrically, these songs are soil-covered and windswept, sung alternately in English and French. “J’inventerai des aubes constellées d’hirondelles/J’écorcherai le froid tout gris qui nous appelle,” she sings (“I’ll invent dawns studded with swallows/I’ll scratch the cold gray that calls to us”). Later, on “Quand j’étais jeune et belle” (“When I was young and pretty”), she describes a lover soaked and chilled by the rain, who proposes they should marry under the branches of an oak.

But the record’s brightest moments happen when the traditional brushes against the hyper-modern, like a match against kindling. The electrified strumming of closer “Berceuse” collides spectacularly with the free-jazz screech of Zoh Amba’s saxophone, and Marisa Anderson’s riffs on “Long Way Home” electrify Gendron’s tale of being tossed asunder, alone on the ocean. Jim White’s fevered drumming on album highlight “Lully Lullay” reads like a restless mind tethered to a sturdy pair of feet, the push-pull between Gendron’s slow, steady refrain and the frenzied cymbals driving a compelling tension. Mayday’s best songs are unsettled and kinetic, living organisms in a state of flux. With roots in the traditional—“Lully Lullay” was inspired by the Appalachian variant of the 16th-century English “Coventry Carol,” for example—these tracks walk the tightrope between the deeply familiar and the abstract, suggesting lullabies with serrated edges. For “Berceuse,” that’s more literal—in French, Gendron sings “Go to sleep, my daughter,” before the freaky saxophone tugs us towards the surreal.

The track order dilutes some of this magic. Album opener “There Is No East or West,” a peripatetic acoustic melody, feels like a drawn-out preamble to the more compelling snap of “Long Way Home,” with its drums like a pulsing heart. Starting at such a low simmer before the second song’s cresting chorus—“Oh mother, other/Make my bed”—is a gamble, and it risks mislabeling an otherwise dynamic LP.

Yet like a devastating Dorothy Parker couplet, a 500-year old carol, or the opening bars of “Suzanne,” there are moments on Mayday that feel essential, plucked out of the ether as if they’ve always existed. These chimeras of the past and present illustrate what Gendron does best—digging up timeless sounds only to disrupt them, reenvisioning what’s timeless for this precise moment.



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