Thursday, May 19, 2005


French pop

Blues Au Féminin:
Hip French Chanson by Bluesy Ladies
(Musicrama/Univeral Licensing Music), 2004

by Wayne Robins

I tell you I'm going to turn you on to a compilation of French pop, and I know what you're going to say: No thanks. That would be my reaction as well, if I were not doing the recommending myself. (And even then I would have my doubts).

But this 14 song CD is surprisingly diverse and interesting. As you would imagine, the French definition of "blues" is a little more vague than the compartmentalized American approach. Opening track "L'Inconditionnel Amour" by Amina is a good place to start: Bits of chill, electro, Middle Eastern, jazz, and of course, le pop music make for an appealing introduction.

Bluesy American jazz singers like Dee Dee Bridgewater, Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone are all represented here, singing in French. Bridgewater goes against type...or at least pulls a "when in Paris" move on "Youkali," a traditional Parisian chanson with accordion; if one imagined a video, it would include a guy with a beret alone at a brasserie smoking a Gauloise. Though both Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone have spent considerable time in France, their accents seem a little forced, and a little overdramatic.

I'm more taken by Patricia Kaas, who romps through "Lady Sings the Blues" (excuse me: "Mademoiselle Chante le Blues"), and by Maurane, whose "Touche par Touche" is a kind of Left Bank bossa nova.

I had long thought Jane Birkin overrated, but on "Les Avalanches" she buries most of the competition with a cooly virtuosic vocal backed by imaginative orchestration over minimal beats. My favorite among many unfamiliar names has to be the artist who calls herself "Viktor Lazlo": Her take on "Mon Legionnaire" is both flashy and feminine. We look forward to Lazlo's return engagement at Rick's Cafe Americain.

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