By Todd Whitesel
ProgQuebec (MPM06) The 1970s prog-rock scene was heavily anchored by the music coming out of Canterbury, England; Great Britain in general; and to some extent Italy, Germany and France. But music isn’t bounded by geography, and to my delight and recent discovery the ’70s progressive scene in the province of Quebec, Canada, was vibrant (and is still). ProgQuebec is part of nonprofit organization Musique ProgresSon, whose mission is to preserve and promote music from Quebec. The label has resurrected many obscure albums such as Pollen’s self-titled 1976 album, here reissued for the first time.
Some history: Pollen formed in 1973 and included Tom Rivest (vocals, bass), Richard Lemoyne (guitars, keys), and Serge Courchesne (drums). They tried to recruit two keyboard players but landed only one, Claude “Mego” Lemay.
In 1974, Pollen were slated as the opening act for Gentle Giant’s tour of Quebec. Prior to the first show, Courchesne quit. Still, the trio carried on and the three members shared drumming duties, playing percussion and other instruments at once! They became a quartet again in 1975, when drummer Sylvain Coutu joined. With Coutu, Pollen recorded their only album.
Pollen’s music is keyboard-heavy with a bright, sometimes friendly sound incorporating flourishes of folk, sinewy guitar lines and shifting time signatures. Think Caravan, Camel, and Hatfield And The North with more of an edge. The five songs are sung in French (lyrics in French are included) so I have no idea, lyrically, what they’re about, but it doesn’t matter; I like what I hear.
The at times torrid opener, “Vieux corps de vie d’ange” is balanced nicely by “L’étoile,” which shifts from gentle folky acoustic picking to bright, magisterial keyboard chording; “L’indien” is a mournful, minor-chord cry; “Vivre La Mort” would sound at home on an early Genesis album and features some, well, electric electric guitar and synthesizer work; the closing “La Femme Ailée” begins with a rich classical guitar bit, buoyed by synth and wordless backing harmony before the band members charge ahead for the final ride.
As Rivest wrote in the CD booklet, “This reissue of our only album was remastered from the original master tapes and is currently the only recorded material available of our incredible adventure.”
Credit ProgQuebec for keeping Pollen’s adventure and the music of its province alive. This release is one of many in a catalog worthy of further investigation. Who knew? (www.progquebec.com)