shaking out the sheets - dirty linen classics

françois hadji-lazaro, a popular french rock musician and the founder of a family of record labels, once said that the group malicorne "single-handedly allowed the french public to discover folk music"
this is, perhaps, an exaggeration; during the 1960s and 1970s, before malicorne's heyday, folk music already had a cult following both in paris and in areas where strong rural traditions remained
but by combining the folk tradition with influences from both rock and roll and early classical music, malicorne accomplished a sound at once richly musical and widely accessible, and they brought french folk music to a far larger audience than had ever heard it before

the history of malicorne begins with a musical couple, gabriel and marie yacoub
as members of alan stivell's breton folk-rock band in the early 1970s, the yacoubs witnessed stivell's wizardry at mixing traditional folk music with rock and inciting young audiences to a frenzy
as non-bretons, as parisians, the yacoubs began to wonder whether a similar combination of traditional and electric arrangements could be applied to songs and tunes from the french-speaking regions of the country
the first fruits of their experiments, recorded in march 1973, became the album "pierre de grenoble", a landmark recording credited to gabriel and marie yacoub

although "pierre de grenoble" featured some of the folk scene's top players, the lineup did not coalesce into a group
still, the album did lead to the formation of malicorne; in early september 1973, the yacoubs joined forces with hughes de courson, "pierre de grenoble"'s producer, who was also a talented multi-instrumentalist and singer
they soon enlisted laurent vercambre, a similar talent, to form malicorne's first lineup
with skill and enthusiasm, singing and playing obscure instruments like the bowed psaltery, the hurdy-gurdy and the crumhorn, they quickly rose to the top of the french folk scene
their debut album, malicorne [hexagone cd 193.632 (1974)], was like a fresh breeze on the french scene
its first two songs charted the course of malicorne's future: a murder ballad sung in gabriel's strong nasal voice and accompanied by a combination of gentle bouzoukis and dulcimers and tough electric bass and guitar, and a song of star-crossed lovers, sung with an ethereal wispiness by marie, and accompanied by a steady, loping bass line, bright strums on mandolins and the occasional otherworldly drones of psaltery and electric guitar
other classic titles include "landry," their first venture into a capella harmonies, and "le chant des livrées," a ritual marriage song sung with gabriel and marie quite appropriately playing the courting couple
malicorne's main weakness is in the quality of the mix, which is muddy
but the interesting material, the band's fresh approach, and the helpful bibliography of song sources make this folk-rock debut fascinating even today

one of malicorne's peculiarities was to keep on putting out eponymous lps; their second was also simply entitled malicorne [hexagone cd 193.652 (1975)]; most critics call it malicorne II
if malicorne revealed a great band in the making, malicorne II realized that potential marvelously
the choral richness of the group's harmonies are fully developed here, and gabriel allows his full, round acoustic guitar playing to emerge, on such tracks as "le garçon jardinier"
most importantly, the band is unusually tight and inventive; their arrangement of "j'ai vu le loup, le renard et la belette," for example, uses two dulcimers, an épinette des vosges, a bouzouki and a mandocello to produce a merry jangle of harmonies, while violin and hurdy-gurdy take the lead and electric bass and tabor the rhythm
the other set of dance tunes begins with the completely traditional sound of the fiddle, but soon adds a fully realized arrangement featuring hurdy-gurdy, mandocello and bass
as for the songs, malicorne's best-known piece of a capella harmonizing, "marions les roses" is here, as are some classic songs in the vein of the first album's material: historical ballads, songs about courtship, and a brief taste of potentially supernatural motifs, which would become a trademark of the band in the future

steve winick - dirty linen
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