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Viva la France!

Or rather, vive la Helena Noguerra. The French actress/producer/writer/singer has finally put out her third album "N'e Dans La Nature" (translation: "Born in Nature") a jazz-pop album that really doesn't stretch anywhere artistically, but is a pretty enough listen.

It opens with a pretty acoustic-guitar melody and soft drumming. Then Helena sidles in with a pretty French song about mornings in spring and blue dragonflies. And she brings a fresh unself-consciousness to her music that is missing in most American pop -- "L''ge De Ma M're" is interrupted by her giggles.

There is a problem with her pop songs, however: A few suffer from the "music-box" effect, which makes them sound a bit precious and cutesy. The tinkly "L''ge De Ma M're" and coy "Le Jardin Pr's De La Falaise" suffer especially from this, where Helena sounds like she's posing on a stage. Stick to the sultrier stuff.

Fortunately, the album grows smoother toward the end, with the swooning "Les Fant'mes" and melancholy "Je Nageais Nue." And even early on there are some wild cards: "Mary Poppins" has an airy choir, mad laughter and a sizzling rock riff. And Helena also produces a breathy acoustic cover of Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head," which is not as catchy as the original, but is much more charming.

The music itself is pretty ordinary overall -- there's nothing here that will really make you think, "Wow, I gotta hear that one again!" The acoustic jazz-pop has its moments of brilliance and quite a bit of charm, but contrary to the Kylie cover, it won't stick in your head. It's more an album to listen to as you slow dance.

Helena herself has a pretty, smooth voice -- it's a bit reminiscent of Kylie's, but a bit deeper and more versatile. She does get props for allowing her voice to be heard as-is; by keeping in laughter and other little sounds, it makes her music sound untouched by studio tinkering. It probably has been cleaned up in places, but nowhere is it obvious.

Pretty-but-unamazing French pop and sweet singing make this a pleasant listen for a summer afternoon, but not anything too exceptional. Just let "la Nature" take its course.
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