Laurence Jalbert’s supple voice has been heard in the collective ear of Québec since the early ‘90s, and a bit before that, for those who knew her former band, Volt. Her voice has a smooth timbre that can run the gamut of emotion; a voice that can express rage, hurt and blows taken; a voice that celebrates human warmth, love and everything that unites us with our peers. The Rivière-au-Renard-born singer has always had a knack for singing songs in a way that both stirs and comforts, some of which she wrote herself, others she was gifted, as is the case on her new album, Ma Route, to be released on Feb. 19, 2016.
She describes this new album in these words on her Facebook page: “It’s an album filled with smiles, hopes, real life and real people! It’s an album of many guitars, pedal steel, mandolins…” Laurence Jalbert’s 11th album came to be recorded in what can only be described as a state of grace: “Everything just flowed freely,” she says. “I woke up in the morning with a smile on my face. It’s an album that came about very simply, and I’ve never experienced that before. But I’ve waited a long time before finding Rick…”
“When an album beckons, it’s a bit like moose call: one needs to be patient. Things always happen when the time is right.”
Ma Route was born of the search for a very specific sound. Jalbert devours all kinds of music. She left physical copies of albums behind a few years ago, but she goes on iTunes weekly and fills her iPhone and iPad with tons of new music that she listens to in her car. “I also revisit the repertoire of artists that are inspirations to me,” she says. “Daniel Lanois, Emmylou Harris, T-Bone Burnett, they’ve all created roots environments that are, to me, very authentic. For a few years, now, I had this very specific sound in my mind that I wanted to re-create, and I was looking for the producer who would be able to take me there. Certain sonic environments just lift me, and I wondered: who can give me that?”
Then, one day, she heard exactly what she was looking for, and enquired who was responsible for it. It was Rick Haworth. She immediately texted him to find out if he was available to work with her. He answered four minutes later saying that he was. “That’s when I knew I was coming out with a new album,” says Jalbert. “When an album beckons, it’s a bit like a moose call: one needs to be patient. Things always happen when the time is right.”
The album has an autumnal aura, eleven songs that carry the feeling of earth and dead leaves. “Those roads, the heady and inspiring colours of fall, the cold of winter that freezes images, as well as time,” Jalbert writes in the album booklet. “The warmth of guitars, those wooden, campfire tones, they too go well with winter,” she adds. “With everything that’s going on in the world, I believe we need a little human warmth.” Throughout our interview, this leitmotif of comforting people comes up again and again. Jalbert’s new album that is full of the same kind of serenity as others impart to a wool sweater that they’ve knitted for a loved one.
BACK TO THE SOURCE
Ma Route is both the title of the album and of the first single. The song was written and composed by Catherine Durand. “When I started getting acquainted with that song, I remembered all those years on the road, paying my dues, freezing my toes off in a truck, driving for so long that it gave me kidney stones, having to sing with a bronchial pneumonia because it was raining in my hotel room,” says Jalbert. “I don’t work in such conditions anymore, but I did live through it all, and for a long time, because I needed music so much, and I still do. If I lived through such things, it was because I needed to meet people, and that’s what the song is about.”
At the other end of the road is the idea of coming home, which is why two of the new album’s songs are about settling down. Through the words and melodies of Bourbon Gauthier, and Rick Haworth’s mandolin, “Nid d’amour” is an ode to Laurence’s tiny house in Gaspésie, her little corner of paradise, where she seeks refuge every now and then. “Au printemps, ce sera la Provence/À l’hiver, la Suisse blanche” (“In the spring, it’ll be Provence/In the winter, white Switzerland”) she sings on that song. On “Je rentre à la maison” (“I’m coming home”), she also sings about going back to her roots, the very moment when you get home. “People who live in remote areas know that feeling quite well,” she says.
Then, right in the middle of the album, there’s a bit of sunshine; a duet with Guylaine Tanguay, the queen of the Québec country music festival circuit. Entitled “Une minute à moi” (“A Minute to Myself”), the song is a charming ditty about the daily lives of those women who never have a minute to themselves, “women like Guylaine and I who are always running around from morning ‘til night,” says Jalbert, “busy with a million things, from the kids’ homework, to cooking dinner, to answering e-mails, to walking the dog, to taking out the trash…”
The road, the home, the dog, all the little things of daily life are part of one song, and re-surface in another, too. On this new album, Jalbert openly flirts with country music. “It’s where I’m from and I like it,” she says. “When I started, songs like “Tomber,” “Au nom de la raison,” or “Corridor” were, to me, Country & Western songs, and I was convinced I was going to get booed because of it! As I grow older, I’ve just decided to accept that that’s where I’m from. I’m coming home.”
THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’
Since Jalbert’s first solo album was released in 1990, the music industry has transformed itself completely. The golden age of album sales is over, and the rules have changed. Does she find it difficult to deal with these new parameters, that aren’t always in the favour of creators? “I just try to do what I do the best I can,” she says. “I’m part of this industry, so I need to adapt. The fact remains that we are expected to produce professional-sounding albums and concerts with limited means, even though things are just as expensive as ever; it’s not like we get a special deal just because we’re from Québec. Sometimes, I tell my agent: ‘That’s it, that’s enough,” but you need to be able to re-invent yourself. I keep touring and selling out venues. I leave the business side of it to my team, even though I always keep an eye on it. As long as people pay to hear me, I’ll keep going.”
As for her voice, it’s only gotten better with time. Jalbert brings serenity to her listeners. Her voice is connected to her heart, and life has shaped her as water polishes a pebble. “I have the voice of a 56-year-old woman who’s had a full life, who’s been stabbed on all sides, who’s had her fair share of good and bad news and who is the proud mom of two and grandmother of four,” she says. “I don’t sing like I did in the beginning; that would be like trying to wear the same fortrel pants for the past 40 years. Our voice is the mirror of our soul, of what we’ve been through. I’m still a strong, temperamental woman, but my impulsiveness has mutated into a quiet strength, and I believe you can hear it in my voice.”
This unique and immediately recognizable voice has been with us for 25 years, and it’s still as pleasant to hear as finding a familiar path in the middle of a forest; a path that leads us to a small, welcoming home.
Watch Jalbert talk about the first single from her new album, Ma route (French only):