De rouille et d’os

meliscoverIndeed not another sweet bedroom voice from the French doll house: The gravelly timbre of 32-year-old singer Melissmell – coming from the départment Ardèche in the southeast of France – occasionally sounds like a mixture of Gianna Nannini and Melanie Safka. The ten songs of her second album Droit dans la gueule du loup (Straight to the Lion’s Den), all written by singer/ songwriter fellow Guillaume Favray, are melancholia stuff about the animal triste, rust, rage and bones, clothed in sparse arrangements with cloudy keyboard/ piano moods and forlorn industrial-spheric ondes Martenot frequencies, especially on the Cormac McCarthy-influenced La Route. The special prize of the jury goes to Daniel Jamet for the unique guitar work. Great cover art, too.

Melissmell – Rock’n’Roll
Melissmell – La route

Say Three Hail Marys

bluejeansIt’s not the first time that German Schlager star Mary Roos is singing in French. Actually, she was the darling of the whole of Paris when she performed at the Olympia in the 70s after smash hits like L’autoroute or L’animal en blue-jeans; obviously her Gallic admirers couldn’t tell Mary from Francoise Hardy, or weren’t aware of her native productions, among them the legendary Arizona Man, the very first German pop atrocity with a synthesizer, composed by Giorgio Moroder (!) and Michael Holm (who had written the soundtrack for Mark of the Devil the very same year). And she’s still at it: Her most recent album Denk was du willst features a somewhat sterile, but strangely touching version of Jacques Brel’s Ne me quitte pas. Plus a cover of Caetano Veloso’s O Leaozinho. That dame’s got taste.

Mary Roos – Ne me quitte pas
Mary Roos – O Leaozinho

Hier, aujourd’hui, demain

helenanoWith her second album Azul, Belgian chanteuse/ actress Helena Noguerra was rivaling Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto in terms of the most easygoing bossa nova lounge style record of the last decade. Now, eleven years later, Noguerra’s back again with her fifth outing Année Zéro, realized with the help of a few prominent friends, among them actress Anna Mouglalis (the Gréco from Gainsbourg: Vie Héroique), Helena’s sister Lio and Syd Matters frontman Jonathan Morali. The true work of an artiste-auteur (Noguerra wrote and composed most of the songs herself), Année Zéro is an elegant and worthwhile, though at times a bit uneven pop exploration. It also features one of the most beautiful chansons of some years to come: Appelle moi, written in collaboration with her ex-husband Katerine, a heartbreaker of a song about yesterday, today, and forever.

Helena Noguerra – Appelle Moi

The Class of ’34

comedharmoFast cars, hot chicks, permanently sold-out concerts and tons of money – in 1932, the Comedian Harmonists were the best selling boygroup in the world, and they even played the Berliner Philharmonie, the German Taj Mahal of classical music, with their ironic, playful, and tenderly frivolous close-harmony songs like Lass mich dein Badewasser trinken (Let Me Drink Your Bathtub Water). Since three of the six Harmonists were so-called non-Aryans, the band was finally forced to split after the Nazi party had taken over in Germany and denounced their art as »Jewish-Marxist blubbering«. In early September of 1934, the Harmonists recorded French language versions of Cole Porter’s Night and Day and Harold Arlen’s Stormy Weather – first-rate examples of their vocal finesse, and the next-to-last melodies of a success story that ended with the melancholy, choral-like Lebewohl, gute Reise (Farewell, bon voyage) they played on their final gigs before they went separate ways forever.

Comedian Harmonists – Quand il pleut
Comedian Harmonists – Tout le jour, tout la nuit

I’m Gonna Kill You One Thursday

askehouAbsolutely no chance to overlook a bigger-than-life eccentric like Mathieu Aschehoug, and certainly we didn’t so – this time, think the rebel mind of Philippe Katerine meeting with the ghost of Alain Bashung in a Breton brothel once owned by Barbey d’Aurevilly. Of course, Aschehoug and his band Askehoug defy any pointless comparisons. Je te tuerai un jeudi (translation see headline), now finally released as well in other European countries, recently won the Georges Moustaki 2013 Award – another dandy, yo – for its sheer cool, cleverness and shit-eating grin. Aschehoug and Askehoug are touring France, Germany and Switzerland in the next weeks – your opportunity to go down in style and ingenuity.

Askehoug – Du style

Un Ami Américain

terrydrawNo, this is neither a French singer nor a French song. But it’s a singer living in Paris for years, an album produced in a Breton studio including a wonderfully sparse song about a fille Terry Lee Hale met in a Parisian café some time ago. Hale himself, a man of 60 years now, was Seattle-based during the high times of Grunge in the mid-Eighties, a singer/ songwriter in the wrong place at the wrong time; he never got a recording contract in the U.S. and was discovered by German indie labels Normal and Glitterhouse in the 90s. His new album The Long Draw is admirable stuff all the way, the work of an ami Americain, the last song Gold Mine telling a quiet, unmistakably French story of hello and goodbye.

Terry Lee Hale – Gold Mine

Deux Amours Redux

gotyoucovIn 2002, Madeleine Peyroux – not exactly a French citizen, but from Athens, GA – met harmonica player & multi-instrumentalist William Galison in a bar on Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, NYC, and they began a stormy on and off relationship that didn’t last all-too many moons. Testament to their affair is the extraordinary collaboration Got You on My Mind, released in the late summer of 2004, only a week before the release of Peyroux’s breakthrough album Careless Love, and finally subject of an extended series of lawsuits between the ex-lovers respectively their record labels. It gets even more complicated: Careless Love featured a nice mid-tempo version of the French classic J’ai deux amours, but the better adaptation undoubtedly is the one on Got You on My Mind. Galison in the liner notes: »Josephine Baker made this song a hit in 1930. It speaks of being torn between two beloved homes; her new one in Paris and her old one on ‘La Savanne’ of Africa. Madi, who lives between New York and Paris, changed the word ‘Savanne’ to ‘Manhattan’ and sings of a similar plight.« And even if Madi and Bill finally took the route to Desolation Boulevard, this is heart-shaped heaven, as intimate and infectious as it gets, and chock-full of joie de vivre.

William Galison & Madeleine Peyroux – J’ai deux amours

The Painter’s Daughter

timnabrOne of those albums that time forgot: Chansons et violons by Timna Brauer, daughter of Austrian painter Arik Brauer who also was a co-founder of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism. Realized in 1999 with the Elias Meiri Ensemble, Chansons et violons serves as an homage to the holy trinity of Brassens, Brel and Piaf; classic French song material showcased chamber music style – piano, cello, violin –, a cool concept suffering a bit from Miss Brauer’s every so often all-too dramatic renditions. Nonetheless the albums’s opener, a classy swingin’ version of Georges Brassens’ Je me suis fait tout petit, lacks all the phoney grandiloquence and has that certain finger snippin’ grandeur reminiscent of Cristina Branco‘s most enchanting French language excursions. Fine art for sure.

Timna Brauer – Je me suis fait tout petit

Mark/ Gérard (See Below)

When it comes to oblivion and bereavement, Washingtonian singer/ songwriter Mark Lanegan can be considered an expert on the matter. His last album was titled Blues Funeral, and on his recent one, Imitations, he’s covering Gérard Manset’s Elégie funèbre, with a tongue heavier than those of four exhausted pallbearers. That’s what French language does to Americans.

Gérard/ Mark (See Above)

Gérard Manset could have been the French David Bowie. Instead, he’s become a myth. Elégie funèbre is the last song on his landmark second album »La Mort d’Orion” (1970), his so-called »oratorio rock-symphonique«. For more about Manset and the album, see here. It’s all about sound and vision.