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Bretonne -Digi-
Bretonne -Digi-

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mead & Honey from a Forgotten France, 24 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Bretonne -Digi- (Audio CD)
World music aficionados in 2011 were certainly treated to a most unexpected surprise - "Bretonne" by Nolwenn Leroy, an inspired and carefully researched concept album that outlines the history & culture of Brittany, a tiny region of France that has its own language and customs. While the album itself is exemplary, the resultant effect it had upon the market and French culture was unexpected, with Leroy stating that the entire project had eventually become `bigger than her' & had taken on a life of its own. It sparked a revival of interest in all things related to Brittany, an area oft neglected within France, and unheard-of in the rest of the world.

It pays to discover what Brittany is all about. It is a very unique province within France; and while it is French, it is also one of the six Celtic nations. Indeed, the Celtic influence upon the region is immense. The primary language is Breton, which is a Celtic language closely related to Cornish and Welsh. The other main language is Gallo, while French is officially considered the native language. Remember that none of these languages sound remotely like French - which is a prerequisite to be informed about before delving into this album. For newcomers, this disc might serve as an introduction to a part of the world you had no idea existed; and its about time it got some recognition. This hasn't been lost upon government as well - "Bretonne" has had such a cultural impact that tourism to Brittany is up - a revitalization of their musical heritage is underway; and curious interest in the Breton language has now given way to people actually wanting to study it (for the record, it is as complex and rich as Welsh).

Now about the artist behind this work - Nolwenn Leroy was yet another reality television music star; with the obligatory No. 1 hit singles and albums; before her last disc, a mood music work inspired by the lullaby-like qualities of Norah Jones failed to make any impact upon the charts. She went back to the drawing board & decided to return to her roots, to the place she was born; and draw inspiration from there. This led her to a journey of introspection and self-discovery, but more importantly a new found respect for the area that birthed her. Brittany is often called one of the most beautiful regions on earth, but due to their linguistic differences & customs, it still remains rather alien and unknown even to some people within France. Leroy attempts to bridge this gap by fashioning "Bretonne" in such a sense that it serves as a primer for the region - a collection of folk songs from the region in the Breton language, a smattering of French songs sung in the region, songs inspired by the region, songs in Celtic, and ending with the national anthem sung in the native tongue. Chances are, this is one national anthem of the world that you've never heard before - and its beautiful.

The entire album is divided into neat little sections - all of which pay homage to their motherland. First up are the traditional songs from Brittany : "Suite Sudarmoricaine", "Tri Martolod" & "Les Jument de Michao"; followed by the classical Breton tracks "Bro gozh ma zadou" & "Karantez vro". Then there a tidy selection of songs about Brittany or inspired by the region sung in French (these are ironically not as gripping as the original Breton songs); and a Celtic section, where she sings the standard Irish "Greensleeves" and "Women of Ireland" (in Gaelic). As you can tell, the entire song selection is very eclectic, but still sourced from the same geographical area. This is not a short, background-music sort of album that you can put on and let play - rather it needs your full investment, as every song here is full of history and meaning - and I would suggest spending a quiet evening studying it rather than attempting to listen to it to pass the time. On a side note, the mastering on the original disc is incredible - with the production being impeccable - so much so that listening to it on headphones and on a good system brings out things that you never knew were layered within the music.

"Bretonne" comes at a time when world music needed something new, fresh and revitalizing. Of course, it may not be to everyones' liking, especially because Nolwenn Leroy has been more of a typical popular music singer than a classical world artist. However, she does better in this role than in any of her previous work. Her album "Histoires Naturelles", while uniformly listenable, was lauded at the time of its release, but now even that pales in the face of this disc. If comparisons had to be made with other world music albums released over the period of 2010-2011, I would certainly rate this higher than "The Wind that shakes the Barley" by Loreena Mckennitt (a good album, but rather dull when held up to Leroy). Also, while these songs sound great on disc, they really come to life when performed live. The trio of the Breton-specific tracks - "Tri Martolod", "Suite Sudarmoricane", and "Le Jument de Michao" were all released as singles in France with mixed chart success - but try watching the videos and live performances for these online - they take an existing work of art & transform it into something timeless - even if you aren't fond of the concept of a `music video', you will find much to appreciate here.

Its also interesting that Leroy's work has now managed to transcend race, nationality, and linguistic differences - because "Bretonne" has become a worldwide phenomenon with listeners of various backgrounds discovering the real reason why its so popular and addictive; and the reason is plain and simple - this is just solid, good, old-fashioned music. And that's something that will never go out of style. If you liked this album, I also suggest picking up "IRM" by Charlotte Gainsbourg, "Galileo" by Claire Pelletier, "L'aventure" by Ben Ricour; and "Des Ballons Rouges" by Guillaume Cantillon. While their genres may be different, they are all as inspired and worthy of repeat play as Leroys' masterpiece is.

Five Stars. An indispensable addition to your world music collection.

1. Tri Martolod
2. La Jument de Michao
3. Suite Sud-armoricaine
4. Greensleeves
5. Brest
6. Bro gozh ma zadoù
7. Mná na h-Éireann
8. Ma Bretagne quand elle pleut
9. Je ne serai jamais ta Parisienne
10. Karantez Vro
11. Le Bagad de Lann-Bihoué
12. Dans les prisons de Nantes
13. Rentrer en Bretagne
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 6, 2011 8:37 PM GMT


Messy Little Raindrops
Messy Little Raindrops
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £2.01

11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Englightening Ride through Kafkian Dystopia, 18 Jan. 2011
This review is from: Messy Little Raindrops (Audio CD)
What can be said of famed philanthropist Cheryl Tweedy Cole that hasn't before? Be it her massive donations to the UNHCR or her work with landmines, her watercolor exhibition at the Louvre, or even her inaugural speech at the Coronation of Sir Louis XIV, she has always rightfully hogged the limelight, even at the detriment of her fellow bandmates. This notwithstanding, she acquits herself beautifully with this handpainted canvas of an album, deftly navigating the uncharted waters of her arteries to cough up a wondrous barnacle, glistening and alluring in its innate prickliness. Let us dissect:

"Promise This", the lead nursery rhyme, is a masterclass in how to sautee an onion. Cheryl starts off by introducing the onion to the knife, and does multiple pirouettes upon a red and white checkered tablecloth as the steel apparatus slices into the weepy vegetable. Soon, it is crackling with aplomb upon the fireplace, oozing with metaphorical goodness out of every pore. The video features a nobleman who collects seaweed just for kicks. All in all, a triumph.

"Yeah Yeah", is a nod to the caramelization process, where the onion, now a dark-brown mass comparable to molasses, is sent through a purification process by which the sucrose quantity is subracted by half, thereby rendering it relatively carb-free. She wails about her quaint obsession with pheasant pot-pie & instructs us in no uncertain terms to dye our radishes black on every second Sunday.

"Live Tonight" is very painful to listen to, as Miss Cole reminisces about her Aunt Agatha, who was a genius in the kitchen, and under whose tutelage, Ms. Cole perfected the art of creating her version of that old classic - French Onion Soup. While the track doesn't inform us of how to crisp a crouton, it does tell you that a base of beef stock is better than chicken stock, and as the bassline hints, a sprig of rosemary never hurt anyone.

"The Flood" is essentially about dessert. Most decidedly, it is about black forest cake, but also spends about four minutes reading off the nutritional content - the carbohyrdrate count is of course high, but did you know that black forest cake has virtually no vitamins? I for one was outraged. I was expecting perhaps an allegorical tale about how saccharine is never a good idea, but that would be like distinguising between ounces and grams, and really, do we want to endure that? Not in this day and age, we don't.

"Raindrops" is quintessential Cheryl. In truth, she wants us to know how to debone a duck, but this coy recipe beats around the bush to such an extent that we wonder if she even knows what shes talking about. But ye of little faith! She bounces right back with elaborate notes on which cleaver to use, what sort of duck to use, and more importantly, what to do with the duck once its' deboned. I found her instructions riveting and under her mentorship I was left with at least three scraggly duck carcasses in my sink, soon to be tomorrows' quiche.

"Everyone" is exactly as the title says - a novella about Marie Antoinette's obscene obsession with cheese. It chronicles the rise of the fair maiden, her kitchen days, but then, and most absurdly, departs from convention and gives us a long list of items required to ferment a batch of goats milk, and how to introduce a bacillus into it so that the blue cheese process can get underway. Surely a bit premature, methinks, but all good Brie and Camembert is produced this way, so who am I to nitpick. As Ms. Cole lovingly tell us here, "Scorching and gratinating at 350 produces best results".

"Amnesia", the torch song on this, is a present day litany on the state of hyper-inflation in Zimbabwe. Surely, this is a topic that not most chefs would dare touch, considering eggs and milk are a rarity there, but when Cheryl asks us to consider using cream of lobster and fresh caviar, one wonders if a local chef would be able to afford it. Not her brightest moment, I must admit, but still, it makes up in eloquence what it does in snobbery. I personally found her final flambee with parsley butter & port wine to be a tad ambitious, but I see no reason why we cant chart uncharted waters.

"Happy Tears", as if I needed to tell you, is a direct assault upon the French goverment - in particular, it berates them upon the bastardization of mayonnaise into its provincial counterpart - aioli (mayonnaise blended with garlic). As revolting as this sounds, mayonnaise CAN taste better if tempered with a few ingredients - most notably oregano, chili, or even extract of hoof. But garlic! The mind boggles. Cole's brash words for parliament have their desired effect here, as she whips up a shrimp souffle using absolutely no aioli at all! The genius! Soon, its on everyone's menu for a pound, and frankly, at that price, she's giving it away. A little more business sense, please, Cheryl?

"Lets Get Down" is Ms. Cole's foray into metaphysical cooking. She observes a stray plate of linguine and ponders "What if that was actually lasagna, but prepared to look as if it were linguine?". As you can imagine, the spiritual implications with this are humungous. Not only that, Cheryl dispels the rumors of her skimping on butter with a delicate wave of her hand. To add fuel to fire, she constructs an entire dish of risotto pomedero using ONLY butter, leaving everyone around the table in a state of shock! When attached to a piece of chiffon (4X4), the dish transforms itself from an epic into an institution.

"Waiting", the final track, can also be called Cheryl's tribute to the legume industry. As we witnessed on 24X7 last night, Cheryl hasn't the slightest idea of how to tell the difference between a grain, a pulse, or a legume, but in this gripping segment, she explains to us, the willing audience, how to gingerly puree a batch of exotic Spanish grains, boil them with a quart of milk, and serve in a jug decorated with a sprinkling of horseradish sauce. Surely a metaphor for something entirely different, but I'll let you figure that one out.

Which brings me to my final thoughts on this album. Cheryl Cole has grown and grown and grown, and now resembles a gigantic hippopotamus. While this is essentially a horrible thing, she makes it worse by posing in a series of revealing outfits that do nothing to disguise her omnipresent hump. Still, as a riveting essay on the current state of human affairs, and especially as a review of the existentialist condition of the human spirit (in times of war and strife), this is most deservedly at the top of its genre.

Five Stars.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 27, 2011 11:48 AM GMT


Irm (Limited Edition)
Irm (Limited Edition)
Offered by Edealcity
Price: £11.06

13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Epic No. 2 from the Spawn of Genius, 8 Dec. 2009
This review is from: Irm (Limited Edition) (Audio CD)
Anyone with a passing familiarity with Charlotte Gainsbourg's work in the medium of both music and film will know that the woman brings a lot of her fathers' eccentricity to the table. It doesn't take a physicist to figure out that her work in Lars Von Trier's "Antichrist" was one of the most painful (literally) experiences ever captured on film, yet she went on to render it in an almost blank-faced fashion, dead-panning throughout the movie until its' visceral climactic conclusion.

On "5:55", which I rated rather highly a few years ago, Charlotte worked with a production team that understood that the only way to make her light, spoken-word singing voice work, was to complement it with strings, violins, and quiet piano interludes. Add to this a medium dose of musical experimentation, and an epic was born. "5:55" found and captured something that no other album has been able to since, and it is truly a unique work in more ways than one. From the jangly musical perfection that is "Everything I Cannot See" to the ponderous morbidity of "The Operation", its something best appreciated by lovers of the independent French music scene, of which thankfully I am a subscriber.

Post "Antichrist" and her much publicized accident, Gainsbourg returns with an album that could possibly even perplex Serge. The immediate sense of coherency that heralded "5:55" is missing here, with lead (and standout) track "IRM" setting the tone for a curious oddity, an album where the stakes are higher, the experimentation more visible, and the voice showing absolutely no signs of evolution at all. While Gainsbourg is certainly alluding to her time spent with the magnetic equipment that discerned her injuries at the time, the song itself is an ode to the clunky bit of equipment an MRI machine really is. With Beck at the forefront, one would expect no less, but in stark contrast to lead single from "5:55" ("The Songs that we Sing"), "IRM" is not instantly memorable, and nor is it meant to be. In that context I would readily compare it to Bjork Gudmundsdottir's "Cvalda" from "Selmasongs", or indeed, the entire "Drawing Restraint 9" project by Matthew Barney.

Shades of Jane Birkin crop up on the albums' only real duet (though joint production credits abound elsewhere). "Heaven Can Wait", while sporting a now infamous video, is a somber take on a nursery rhyme gone wrong, and instead works as a silent lamentation on all things lost. Serge Gainsbourg's work towards the end of his career focused on topics such as death, loss, grief and in typical fashion he bounced back from these with jolly ditties written to the follies of love and alcohol. This gene seems to have skipped Charlotte, as she seems even more depressed on "IRM" than she ever has (the album makes her '80s debut "Lemon Incest" seem like a fun day at the circus).

Indeed, the sinister and morbid songwriting only elevate the overall tone of the music, as "In The End", a classic piece of French pop if there ever was one. The track combines the best of the 1960s French yeye stylings with a more British Invasion feel that underscores its' simplicity. But the lyrics! How clever these songwriters were, and Charlotte's airy vocals, often conveying almost nothing, do well in such dark surroundings. Consider this a companion piece to the novella "My Life in Rose Red" and you wouldn't be much off the mark.

M.I.A's contribution is as stellar as Becks, especially on 'Greenwich Mean Time', which is infinitely more adventurous than anything on "5:55" or even on anything else on "IRM". Its moments like these when Gainsbourg lets loose, Yoko Ono style, that a true glimmer of her personality shines through, and its every bit as guarded and disturbed as her lead role in "Antichrist" would let us believe. This is not a pretty, happy record. But it is an essential one, and clearly one of the frontrunners for Album of the Year.

Four and a Half Stars. Indispensable.


Variations Sur Le Meme T'aime
Variations Sur Le Meme T'aime
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £14.28

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pinnacle of Perfection : Greatest French Album of All Time, 7 Jun. 2007
How does this little-known 1990 album remain the Greatest French Pop Album ever recorded?

I don't know how she did it, but almost 20 years after it was first released, "Variations Sur le Meme T'Aime" remains that most curious animal - a moderately successful album that not many people remember - yet one that has entered the record books as being perhaps the most critically acclaimed French album of all time. You wouldn't know it just by looking at it, but Vanessa Paradis' sophomore album with Serge Gainsbourg is not just a beautiful CD anyway you look at it, it remains a timeless slice of just how amazing French pop can get when put into the right hands.

Vanessa Paradis was still 18 years old when this was released, and listening to it in the 2000s makes you realize that this is one of those CDs that actually gets better with time. The melodies are still stark and clear, the production is excellent, and the voice is as lovely as ever. If you heard this when it first came out, and if you hear it now, you won't be disappointed. This album has been one of my best friends through some of the most incredible times of my life (my first job, my first relationship) and I can still listen to it today and not feel anything except pure joy and amazement at the sheer artistry contained within.

If you're skeptical, well, I would say you need to get this first before being critical. People normally wonder how a Vanessa Paradis record could be any good (she is known for her almost Minnie Mouse-style vocals, and hasn't produced a bonafide hit in years). In fact, her best known single "Joe Le Taxi" is what she's remembered for, which is a pity. This particular album houses all her best work. Not even her 2000 album "Bliss" (which is a masterpiece in its' own right) is as good as this.

First, the best tracks:

1. "Au Charme Non Plus" : I said it in 1990, and I'll say it again - this has got to be one of the most melodious and emotionally affecting pop songs ever put to record. Coupled with an unforgettable chorus (another strong point of this CD), this is the highlight of the album. The opening beats alone are worth the price of admission, but that chorus! Its heart-stopping, and timeless. I can listen to this back to back and still crave listening to it. Take it from a pro. I've been listening to this track for 17 years now, and I still haven't gotten tired of it.

2. "Amour Jamais" : Now this might sound like its got a bit too much synthetic production, but it's a fierce pop number that is instantly memorable after just one listen. I have had friends who have wanted to borrow this album just for this song - in fact, I lost the copy I bought in 2001 precisely due to this. Vanessa laments the curse of love on this one, and her delicate vocal harmonies coupled with a killer chorus elevate the track to a whole new plane.

3. "Dis Lui Toi Que Je T'aime" : The hit single from this record (well, sort of hit single - it stalled on the French charts) is a gorgeous ballad with Celine Dion-style instrumentation. I hate Celine, but in this case, the song goes from being just OK to being exceptional due to some interesting lyrical content and Vanessa's powerhouse vocals. There is a live version of this song on the "Live" album that I prefer, but the original is still very pretty.

4. "Tandem" :One of the greatest French songs ever written, without a doubt. I remember seeing the video when I was about 14 and being shocked by the overtly sexual imagery (though it looks pretty tame these days). The song is a faux-rock track, and the melody and style is most closely related to "Cowboy Style: by Kylie Minogue - this is meant in the best way possible because "Tandem" almost completely defines the `cool' factor this CD possesses.

5. "L'Amour a Deux" :This is Track 1 on the CD, and is a slow jazz number that rises to almost gospel-mania before settling again into somber territory. As an opening track, it introduces you to just how excellent the record is, and everytime it spins you are surprised by just how advanced the recording sounds despite being a product of the late 1980s.

Those were the standout tracks. The others are excellent overall, as well. I would especially recommend "Ophelie" and "Ardoise" as well - two very different songs, but almost uniformly compelling. The title track is a nice play on words. "T'Aime" in French means "I love you", and in the context of the title it also means "Theme" (which has the same meaning as the English word). The title therefore means either "Variations on the same "I love you"" and "Variations on the same theme" - and the end impact is a combination of both titles as they obviously interconnect.

This album to me remains the greatest French language album to this day. I am not being biased or overtly gushing here, just honest. It goes without saying that every track is a winner, but what is utterly glorious about it is that despite being quite old it hasn't lost the title to any album since, not even an album by Vanessa herself. Much of this is probably due to Serge Gainsbourg, the French musical genius who created this alongwith Vanessa - his personality shines through on every single track, and I have to wonder if this is not the most shining star in his arsenal of quality musical output.

One of the reviewers here said that this album defined `cool' even before `cool' existed. I have to agree. Again, I don't know HOW they did it, but this album gets everything right - music, lyrics, production, and more than that, it SPEAKS to you, and becomes a VERY integral part of your life very quickly. I have often found myself sifting through my Ipod wondering if I want to listen to Radiohead, Janet Jackson, Noa or Tori Amos, and almost every single time, I reach for "Au Charme Non Plus" and sit back once again in the cozy world this album so readily offers.

This is not an album, it's a life-altering experience of the highest order. I don't think Vanessa possibly had the maturity to realize what she created when she recorded this at such a young age, but its an enduring manuscript of the highest caliber of pop music, and sits at the top of my list as the Greatest French Album ever recorded.

Five Stars. It doesn't get better than this. Buy. Now.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 28, 2015 8:43 PM BST


Bliss
Bliss
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £15.42

49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars France's Flowerchild makes a stunning comeback, 29 Jun. 2001
This review is from: Bliss (Audio CD)
*Co-written by Johny Depp, featuring 'Commando', 'Pourtant', and three English language tracks*
Best known as the 13 year old fresh-faced teen fidgeting her way through a live rendition of her first single on French National Television way back in the 80s, Vanessa Paradis has come full circle with what is possibly the finest moment of her tumultuous career.
Unfortunately for her, shes always going to be remembered as the little girl who sang her way to the top of the French charts with 'Joe le Taxi'. While nothing on this CD remotely compares to the girlish innocence of that single, it does have its' childlike moments, best embodied on 'La ballade de Lily Rose', which Vanessa wrote for her daughter.
This is Vanessa's first studio album in a decade, and the time away has apparently changed her sound. American listeners who remember her from the infamous 1992 CD with Lenny Kravitz will notice the same jazz-lounge feel of this album. Vanessa's voice has never been a strong instrument, yet she has managed to tone down the Mickey Mouse squeak that so often ruined some of her earlier work, resulting in a suprisingly effective compilation of bluesey harmonies.
The first single from this album 'Commando' is markedly different from the other songs on here. There are no rock ballads, and no silly pop ditties. There is, however, an emphasis on eclectic influences. 'L'eau et le vin', the first song, is heavily saturated in Middle Eastern instruments, and sets the tone for the whole album. Another track, 'Pourtant' was recently voted by the singer's fan community as the best song on the CD, though that title most deservedly goes to 'St. Germain', a Billie Holiday-style lounge track that is simply stunning.
As a body of work 'Bliss' is strong and flawless. There is not one song on here that falters, and with this album out, Vanessa has flown Light years ahead of contemporary French songstresses such as Ophelie Winter, Axelle Red, and yes, even Mylene Farmer. When I heard that 'Bliss' had been released, I couldn't resist the temptation to listen to the entire album over the Net, and when I did, I was determined to buy the CD. Unfortunately, Vanessa's weak promotion of the CD, and her record companies' sorry attempts at promoting the album even in France, has resulted in a gem of an album going unnoticed.
All in all, 'Bliss' has been the shock of the summer. Critics who once passed Vanessa over as another ... kitten without talent will have to eat their words now that this record is out. Coupled with the release of the seemingly classy 'La Fille sur le pont', Vanessa Paradis is definitely THE french chanteuse of the moment, and rightfully so.
Highly recommended. The import version is expensive, but certainly worth it.


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