Published Mar 03, 2010Unfortunately, a formidable language barrier keeps major francophone Quebec stars in relative obscurity in the rest of Canada. A current example is Montreal singer-songwriter Caracol. With her former band DobaCaracol, she earned gold records and a following in Europe, and her 2008 solo debut, L'arbre aux parfums, has found similar success.
Her solo Toronto debut was an unequivocal triumph, as shown by the standing ovation at the end of her opening set. Her style defies categorization, with folk, cabaret and pop elements merging seamlessly, while a charming stage presence instantly seduced the audience.
There's a breezy and upbeat feel to her sound, enhanced by her ukulele playing. Accompanists on guitar and banjo and a female backing singer added depth and some sweet vocal harmonies, as on "La Route." Caracol was equally convincing when she dug deeper, as on the Piaf-like "Your Tears." She closed her set with a couple of songs in English, explaining that her next album will be primarily in that language. That may just bring the cross-country success she merits.
Roxanne Potvin needed little introduction to the crowd. She recently relocated to Montreal, after being a vital member of the Toronto scene for the previous five years. Her largely drummer-less band comprised two female backing singers, a stand-up bassist and local ace Christine Bourgie on lap steel and guitar.
Potvin's set focused largely on songs from her most recent album, the sadly underrated No Love for the Poisonous, kicking off with the retro-soul feel of "Paralyzed." The first half of her set was perhaps a little sedate after Caracol's vibrant turn, but there was no denying the strength of Potvin's vocals and songwriting. She has definitely travelled a distance from her blues roots, as shown by a cover of Patrick Watson's "Fireweed." She played piano for a solo take on her soul ballad "Don't Pay Attention," then upped the tempo refreshingly on "Who's the Enemy."
A couple of new songs sounded promising (especially "Sabotage"), and Potvin then enticed the crowd into singing and clapping along for her infectious "Laws of Nature," followed by the sizzling blues of "Dig Deeper." Two songs in French, including the soft and pretty "Je T'Aime," helped reinforce the bilingual theme of this excellent double bill.