Being both a guitar-based indie-pop band and a modern chamber ensemble, Plumes Ensemble (or Plumes) is a group with a split personality. Based in Montreal and Paris, the ensemble makes a mighty effort to reconcile these seeming opposites with its latest recording, Folk Songs and Future Loves—and succeeds more often than not. Many a classical composer has attempted to retrieve pop from the dustbin of commercial disposability by aligning the beauty of simple melodies with those found in traditional folk forms from around the world. To that end, the album consists of seven original songs by Plumes cobandleader and vocalist Veronica Charnley, alongside new arrangements by her and her partner Geof Holbrook of selections from Twenty Hungarian Folk Songs by Béla Bartok (1929) and Folk Songs by Luciano Berio (1964). The album begins with Charnley’s songs, which overall suit nicely the melodic sweeps of her gorgeous voice and whimsical lyrics about summer errands and moving house. The ensemble plays with a restrained force that reflects how easily Plumes can switch identities into pop band.
It’s a bit of an abrupt shift, however, when the Ensemble changes gears to play Bartok, and Charnley begins singing in Hungarian: these three tracks are not the album’s strongest. The treatment of Berio’s Folk Songs, however, wonderfully complements her own songs, and Charnley does a magnificent job of filling the shoes of Cathy Berberian, for whom Berio originally recomposed this compelling selection of American, Armenian, French, and Azerbaijani songs. One has to pinch oneself when the album closes on a lone Charnley original, the piano ballad “Oh, Orwell,” following the six-song Berio suite. Luciano himself would be proud.