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Uncommonly Strong Clawhammer Tunes #4

Posted by tfaux on Friday, November 29, 2013

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Reel d'Issoudun

This month's Uncommonly Strong clawhammer tune is a crooked French Canadian reel I first learned from Québec fiddler Guy Bouchard.

There is a wealth of marvelous traditional dance music in French Canada that seldom gets played by American old-time musicians, and rarely on 5-string banjo. Some of the best are airs tordus or "crooked tunes" that defy the boundaries of the ubiquitous 32-measure AABB phrase structure of North American fiddle tunes. A couple of my previously posted banjo recordings of such tunes are "Cache tes fesses" and "Turlute Acadiene" both of which are also in the BHO Tab Archive (HERE and HERE.)

Québécois traditional repertoire has deep roots in early Breton dance music (many of the early settlers in Québec trace their heritage to that Celtic region in northwestern France) as well as in the 18th and 19th century migrations of fiddlers from Ireland.  Québec traditional dances often don't require "squared" phrases, and as a result many Québécois fiddlers extend or shorten their phrases, taking liberties with the form as the spirits move them. While fiddle and accordion is the quintessential traditional ensemble in Québec, many of these great tunes are especially suited to 5-string banjo.    

Today's tune, "Reel d'Issoudun" is one that Guy Bouchard learned from the playing of fiddler Joseph Couture. Guy is an excellent musician, a folklorist, and a founding member of the Québec supergroup "La Bottine Souriante." More of these crooked tunes may be found in his collection "Airs Tordus du Québec" published by Trente Sous Zero in Québec.  This tune has been recorded by several groups including the Vermont traditional band "Nightingale."  A great short arrangement by Simon LePage for electric bass is HERE.  I recently became reacquainted with a version of it during an impromptu radio jam session on WILL-FM (Urbana, IL) with mandolinist Mike Compton, who used to play it in the John Hartford Band.

One of the oddities of this tune is that the A-section starts with four 8th-note pickups, and ends with a half measure.  While it would be possible to straighten the A-section by moving all the bar lines half a measure to the left, it would surely lose its groove.  

In the interest of readability I have left out the off-beat "ditties" as well as such indicators as "hammer-on," pull-off," etc.  As usual, if you've gotten this far, you can probably figure out where they all go.


My clawhammer recording with fiddler Robin Kearton is HERE>

Tab in .PDF format HERE> 







8 comments on “Uncommonly Strong Clawhammer Tunes #4”

banjomac Says:
Friday, December 13, 2013 @5:53:54 PM

So I'm not the only one around here who plays this! Quebecois tunes are a blast on the banjo.

Your playing is very pretty.

JanetB Says:
Sunday, December 15, 2013 @1:56:24 PM

A delightful tune and your duet is absolutely lovingly gorgeous! Mike Compton's playing is always superb and it's good to see him appearing in your blog.

wallflower Says:
Monday, December 16, 2013 @11:45:47 AM

This is a great introduction to Quebecois. I also linked to your recordings of "Cache tes fesses" and "Turlute Acadiene" to hear more. You and Robin sound beautiful!

tfaux Says:
Monday, December 16, 2013 @3:34:11 PM


Gitfiddle Emporium Says:
Tuesday, December 17, 2013 @8:04:18 AM

I am SO grateful for this Tom! This has been one of my favorite tunes ever since hearing John Hartford play it about a decade ago. Just has a beautiful lilting style that you nail in this arrangement. Thank you!

stewart1 Says:
Tuesday, December 17, 2013 @11:42:55 AM

Beautiful rendition. Having lived in Quebec for 25 years (Montreal), I developed a fondness for Quebec fiddling and to now come across clawhammer banjo tabs is a bonus. Thanks!

Gerard Douglisse Says:
Wednesday, December 18, 2013 @12:37:56 AM

Nice playing ! I will try to play Reel d'Issoudun right now !
I live in Brittany and I would be glad to meet you !

strokestyle Says:
Monday, December 23, 2013 @10:54:57 AM

Love that your doing this Tom!

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