Francophiles should seriously consider adding “Vintage France” to their music libraries, even if the concept and delivery of the compilation album are a bit inexact.
In general, “Vintage France” succeeds in celebrating the French “chanson” music – specifically, that of Paris in the 1950s and ‘60s, as the CD liner notes purport.
Chanson dates back long before the 1950s, however, plus it’s often associated with vocals and four cuts on “Vintage France” are instrumentals.
Still, there’s a surreal timelessness in this collection, and all of the songs could flow together for an imagined night in some café or cabaret in Monmartre.
The vocal chansons are constructed with the nuances of French in mind, which only magnifies the natural beauty of the language. And most of the singers, who span several generations, employ velvety smooth vocals, from the fanciful turn by Juliette Greco on “La Valse Brune” to Madeleine Peyroux’s intoxicating take on Serge Gainsbourg’s “La Javanaise.”
The arrangements do their part, too, as when a tasty muted horn complements the manly growl of Daniel Roure on “Les Baleines Bleues” and when strings and piano layer in lushness to Asier Etxeandia’s suave intonations on “J’Attendrai.”
The instrumentals have flavor all their own, from the Gypsy jazz of “Nany” by the Norbert Slama Trio to the powerful harmonica of Dutchman Martijn Luttmer on “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg.”
There’s an inescapable cheesiness to it all, the feeling that playing this music could be a ploy to lend authenticity to a French kiosk in the food court of an outlet mall in the middle of Oklahoma.
But it’s more endearing than corny because these songs conspire to produce a mood that’s both fussy and casual, both romantic and stand-offish.
You can’t get more French than that.
Rating: 4 stars (out of five)
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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