Saturday, September 29, 2012

Les Kanto "Serais-tu un de me amis?"

If you poke around the BadCatRecords website ( you'll quickly see that I have a fascination with French-Canadian garage bands.  I'll admit it's odd since I've never been to Canada and I don't have any connections with the area.  Anyhow, many French-Canadian bands have roots stretching back to the early 1960s, frequently well before their better known English speaking Canadian counterparts even dreamed of rock and roll stardom.   That's certainly the case for Les Bel Canton.    Formed in Montreal in 1962, the band was originally known as Les Cinq Canto (which I think translates roughly into The Five Chanters).  By 1964 they'd morphed into Les Bel Canto (The Handsome Chanters).  Starting in 1964 they became a recording franchise, churning out about two dozen 45s for a chain of Canadian and French labels.  They also released a series of  LPs.


late-1960s publicity shot  from left to right:
back row: Rene Letarte, Pierre Paquet and Dany Bouldec and front row: Claude Falardeau and Andre Fortin

By 1970 the band (now known as Les Kanto) featured the talents of lead guitarist Dany Bolduc, guitarist André Fortin, bassist René  Letarte, and drummer Pierre Paquet.  Signed to the Trans-Canada label, they recorded their fourth studio album with producers Jean Beualine and Yves Martin.  Titled "Serais-Tu un des Mes Amis?" the album showcased all original material penned by Letarte and Bolduc.  Shown on the cover with their hair grown out and dressed like they were happenin', I was expecting to hear something with a rather heavy edge.  Instead these guys sounded like a Francophile version of Tommy James and the Shondells.  That wasn't meant as a criticism since I'm a Shondells fan, but meant to set the tone in terms of what to expect.  And those expectations should be set to early-'70s, orchestrated pop.  Tracks like ' Bon Matin ma Rose', ' Le Vieil Homme et Son Jardin' and 'Assez' were lightweight, orchestrated pop that was clearly meant for top-40 radio play.  More product than art, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing given there was quite a few interesting performances buried on the album.  By far the standout numbers were also the album's most atypical performances - the garage rocker ' On Fera L'amour' was a killer track that demonstrated they could play (check out drummer Paquet's performance on this one.), while 'Si Chopin' was a McCartney-styled rock shouter.  

- 'Man Man Man' started the album off with a strange pop-psych number.  The song's bouncy melody and refrain meshed with some nice Dany Bolduc fuzz guitar and weird, effects laiden lead vocals that reminded me a bit of Tommy James circa 'Crimson and Clover'.  Strange, but fascinating.   rating: *** stars - '
- 'Bon Matin ma Rose' (I think it translates as 'Good Morning My Rose'), was a nice, Association-styled ballad with sweet harmony vocals and a pretty melody, though it would have been even better without the horn arrangement.  It was tapped as one of three singles.   rating: *** stars
- Lorsque nous Serons Heureux' opened up with a slightly psych tinged arrangement featuring what sounded like an early synthesizer, before shifting into ballad territory.  Not sure who handled lead vocals on this one, but his raspy delivery was actually kind of cool.  The song's real highlight came in the form of René Letarte dazzling acoustic bass.   rating: *** stars
 - Apretty, harpsichord-propelled ballad, ' Le Vieil Homme et Son Jardin ' sounded more 1967  than 1970.  Breezy and fun, though not any special.   rating: ** stars - ' 
- On Fera L'amour' found the band taking a crack at hardcore garage.  Showcasing Pierre Paquet's caustic drum and a killer freak-out guitar solo from Bolduc, this pounding rocker was easily one of the album's highlights.  Should have been a single.     rating: **** stars
- Opening up like it was recorded in front of a game show audience, ' Assez' ('Enough') was another heavily orchestrated Association-styled commercial ballad with nice group vocals.      rating: *** stars
- Another atypical offering, 'Si Chopin' was a  true, punk-rocker with screaming lead guitar, powerhouse drumming, and a great tear-out-your-vocal chords performance that would have made Paul McCartney proud.  Easy to see why it was tapped as the lead off single, though I'm not certain how Frederick Chopin would have felt about the performance.    rating: **** stars   - I'm guessing
Una Croce Sul Mio Nome' was written with the thought it might make a European single - the band had toured Europe a couple of times.  A big, overblown ballad, the song didn't have all that much going for it, though the Italian lyrics were momentarily surprising.   rating: ** stars
 - So if the previous one targeted an Italian market, why not take a stab at the Spanish market with the equally lame pop ong ' Love Me Por Favor'?    Clumsy and barely in tune, you can live without this one.   rating: ** stars
- 'Dors' was a lightweight, heavily orchestrated pop tune that with it fluffy chorus ("flu, flu, flu") sounded like it might have been written to sell bubblegum, or underarm deoderant.   rating: ** stars - Remember when The Monkees where cute and goofy?   I meant to say remember The Monkee television episodes when they were still cute and goofy?  Before the four of them started to get an attitude and wanted to dip their toes into social commentary?  Well, had The Monkees been French-Canadian,  'En avion' (translated as 'By Plane') could easily have been one of the songs on one of their first three LPs.  A catchy, almost bubblegum slice of pop, it had all the ingredients required to be a radio hit, except for the obvious fact it was sung in French.   rating: *** stars
- The album's most 'modern' sounding number,  'Serais-tu Un de Mes Amis?' opened up with a nice Bolduc guitar segment, turning into a anthemnic mid-tempo ballad.  Unfortunately, just a the song really started to jam, it faded out.  Love to know what the lyrics were about.    rating: **** stars

I'll readily admit I've never understood the way Canadian labels operated.  In this case the album spun off three single (all credited to Les Bel Kanto), but they weren't released by Trans-Canada, rather came out on the Elite label: 

- 1970's 'Si Chopin' b/w ' On Fera L'amour' (Elite catalog number EL 7007) 
- 1970's 'Bon Matin ma Rose' b/w 'En Avion' (Elite catalog number EL 7010)
- 1971's 'Serais-tu Un de Mes Amis?' b/w 'J'aime Le Vie' (Elite catalog number EL 7020)

These guys were clearly talented; far better when they ditched their commercial moves in favor of a more rock oriented sound.  Like a lot of other French Canadian bands, you were left to wonder what would have happened if they'd been willing to record a couple of track in English. 

  "Serais-Tu un des Mes Amis?" track listing:
(side 1) 
  1.) Man Man Man    (René Letarte - Dany Bolduc) -  
  2.) Bon Matin ma Rose   (René Letarte - Dany Bolduc) -  
  3.) Lorsque nous Serons Heureux   (René Letarte - Dany Bolduc) -  
  4.) Le Vieil Homme et Son Jardin   (René Letarte - Dany Bolduc) -  
  5.) On Fera L'amour   (René Letarte - Dany Bolduc) -  
  6.) Assez   (René Letarte - Dany Bolduc) -   

(side 2)
1.) Si Chopin   (René Letarte - Dany Bolduc) -  
2.) Una Croce Sul Mio Nome   (René Letarte - Dany Bolduc - T. Caticchio) -  
3.) Love Me Por Favor   (René Letarte - Dany Bolduc) - 
4.) Dors   (René Letarte - Dany Bolduc) -  
5.) En avion   (René Letarte - Dany Bolduc) -  
6.) Serais-tu Un de Mes Amis?   (René Letarte - Dany Bolduc) -        

For anyone interested, bassist Letarte has a small French language website at:   


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