Swinging piano, trumpet blowing blue ribbons, double bass giving cool tunes and nocturnal guitar with crystalline reflections, the title track of Émile Bilodeau’s new album opens the doors to a jazz bar. We don’t know where or when we are, but we guess even before he sings it that it’s the meeting place for those crippled by life or love, the refuge where they dream better while drowning their despair.
On this track, the singer plays the bartender, a disillusioned observer of a pitiful fauna, a role with which he is fed up, but which perhaps prevents him from finding himself in the place of one of his clients… He examines other slip-ups – social and political – on Love at the End of Times, in which he portrays a young father who tells his child about himself. Sings about a romantic breakup in The Sugaring Season (“Do you know that it hurts me/Since we didn’t love each other”).
The tone is jazzy here, bluegrass there (Les Daisy), the swing impulse is recurring, but what does not change is Émile Bilodeau. For better or for worse. He bites into these new songs as he did in his previous ones: with a crooked smile, a sometimes poorly polished patter and this tone that lacks finish which makes him endearing, but also a bit irritating. His singing is spontaneous, yes, but his phrasing is often abrupt and poorly channeled.
We forget his limitations as a performer when he serves texts where careful images rub shoulders with substantive poetry. In songs with weaker lyrics like the anecdotal Misunderstanding or Mauvais temps, where he knits rather clumsily around verb tenses as if it were an idea of genius, it creaks quite a bit and hangs in the corners. It’s better when he has the joyful criticism (Y ça qui peut) or when he dialogues ironically with his heart (Compromise) to retro music.
At the Bar of Hopes offers good moments, is often musically elevated, but also suggests that after his sensational debut, Émile Bilodeau is perhaps at the point of slowing down the pace. Taking the time to let the artist that he is mature and the vision of the world – critical, caustic, tender or sloppy – that he already successfully shares could, we say, take him even further.