Voyages & Other Stories
Quebec’s Guy Bélanger is a multiple Maple Blues Award winner for Harmonica Player of the Year and is otherwise well recognized as both an instrumentalist and singer-songwriter in his nearly fifty-year career. Voyages & Other Stories is his seventh solo album, a mix of originals and covers, featuring a strong supporting cast of both players and guests. Bélanger picks his favorite tunes and doesn’t stick strictly to a blues format, adding soul, funk, and folk with such material as Nina Simone’s “Do I Move You,” Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and Jimmy Hall’s “Duck Soup.
Much of the liner notes is in French with English translations for the synopses of songs. Bélanger on harp and vocals leads an ensemble of guitarists Rob MacDonald and Claude Fraudette, bassists Marc-Andre Drouin and Alec McElcheran, keyboardist Bruce Cameron, and drummer Michel Dufour. Vocalists Sylvie Desgroseilliers (“Do I Move You”) and Nanette Workman (“Au Bout Du Chemin) also join. McElcheran takes the lead vocal on “How Do You Do It.”
The instrumental “Bayou Ride” nods to the Acadian migration to Louisiana as well documented in that song from fellow Canadians, The Band, in “Acadian Driftwood.” Perhaps we’re stretching a bit but, in any case, Bélanger finds the deep blues accompanying Desgroseilliers on the engrossing Nina Simone tune. “Kilmandjaro” is atmospheric, dreamy and mysterious as his melodic harp melds nicely with Cameron’s piano. There’s some big band-like swing in Hall’s “Duck Soup” as the harp and guitars engage in vigorous exchanges. “How Do You Do It” is a funky excursion.
“Nieve” is a gently flowing, gorgeous instrumental and an easy, swaying groove extends into the soul ballad “No One Else,” with the leader’s harp sumptuously filling the spaces. They find the emotive center of Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” no easy feat, as the harpist and pianist create colorfully rich melancholic harmonies. The blues is never far behind though as Muddy Waters’ “King Bee” features gutsy harp and fine picking morphing to an up-tempo boogie in the latter half. True to the sequencing pattern, “The Sun Will Rise” is another elegant instrumental that segues nicely with the closing, undulating “Au Bout Du Chenin,” featuring the emotive vocals of Nanette Workman.
Bélanger’s Voyages is one of the more relaxing, so-called “blues” albums you’ll hear, by turns, majestic, cinematic, and earthy, his journeys are inspiring.
- Jim Hynes