If your idea of a winter (l’hiver) album is a collection of suck-it-up-and-pray-we-make-it-to-spring melancholia, steer clear of this album. If, on the other hand, you want to get jiggy and reel with winter and only occasionally lapse into wistfulness, this seventeen-track collection will get you to crocus season in a much better mood. (Leroy) Lawrence O’Hearn is an Ontario-born tin whistle and oboe artist who is perhaps best known for his stint living in Galway, where he was part of the band Pangea. He moved to Quebec a few years ago and has lately been collaborating with André Marchand, the guitarist and foot percussionist from the seminal band La Bottine Souriante. This is, however, mainly O’Hearn’s showcase and a glorious one it is.
The title track is a Quebecois traditional covered by La Bottine Souriante on J’ai jamais tant (2005) and its lively pace and upbeat melody signal O’Hearn’s intent to confound our wintery expectations. He does so further by using tin whistle on fast-paced tunes to make them sharper, but not icy. When he wants the mood to be more forlorn, he switches to baroque oboe. In still another switch, though, most of the pensive or disconsolate pieces–”Liam O’Raghallaigh,” “Bean Dubh An Ghleanna,” “An Raibh Tú Agan cCarraig”—come from Ireland, a land of mild winters–as opposed to Quebec, where a February wind can rip the hide off of a rhino. The Quebecois cope by heating up the hall with dance music, the likes of which you’ll hear on sets such as “Naphtalie Billet” and “Reel á Castonguay.” Both sets evoke beribboned May Poles rather than parkas and jumper cables. Another frolicsome moment comes with O’Hearn’s original “Snorkel Jacket Jig,” which is appended to Marchand’s “L’Échelle,” a fun little one-two punch that will leave you wondering if you should go deep diving or high stepping. And what better way to drive away the darkness than with a bit of Wolfgang Amadeus? O’Hearn dusts off his classical training for a stellar version of Mozart’s “Bei Männern Welche Liebe Fühlen” and, if by then, you’ve no idea what to make of winter we can but say, “Well done, lads.”
-Rob Weir, Off-Center Views