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Troubadour Of The Soul
on 8 March 2009
Mr Brel was no ordinary singer / songwriter. We know this to be true.
A maverick. A vocal dramatist. A musical painter of some of the most
luminescent and some of the darkest songs ever imagined.
A troubadour of the soul.
The compositions are both deeply affecting at an an emotional level,
without ever sinking into bathos, yet also wholly satisfying intellectually.
This collection is a welcome addition to the history of his existing recordings.
The heart and soul of the album can be found between tracks 2 - 10
recorded in 1977, just one year away from his death from lung cancer.
The intense chiaroscuro of these nine songs, despite Brel operating with
only one lung, is an extraordinary testimony to his bravery and artistry.
The vivid sonic reconstructions place the voice forward and stage centre.
Almost too much so. His presence is unnervingly close.
A man and his music facing down death with his spirit ablaze.
The dour accordian introduction to 'La Cathedrale' presages a performance of such
tremendous dramatic power that the hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention.
'L'Amour Est Mort', with it's mercurially elusive melody, is equally chilling.
A deeply impassioned cris de coeur which never loses focus for a moment.
'Mai 40' sounds like a man dancing by his own open grave in an act of defiant jollity.
'Avec Elegance', with it's simple echoing piano accompaniment, is an elegant gem.
With 'Sans Exigences' we are drawn into a cold, dark and terrible place.
The subtle and haunting organ and harpsichord arrangement bring an almost
hymn-like quality to the performance but there is no god here to console us.
'Les Marquises' is one of Brel's true masterpieces.
Francois Rauber's orchestral arrangement and direction is here, as elsewhere,
full of limpid, exotic colour and texture. Truly beautiful.
'Orly', with it's slow crescendo, thrilling brass punctuation
and half-spoken vocal is an evocative story, well-told.
'La Ville S'Endormait' brings a nocturnal landscape alive against
a gently strolling orchestral ostinato. Stunning.
'JoJo', a song of true friendship, brings this group of
existential gems to a quiet close.
The 1972 recording of 'Ne Me Quitte Pas', also on Disc 1,
raises uncertainty and loss to a transcendent level.
The 20 tracks which comprise Disc 2 is a box of treasures.
Ranging between 1955 and 1973 these recordings display the full
power and range of this great performer's almost otherworldly talent.
The thrilling 1968 live recording of 'Amsterdam', on it's own,
would be worth the outlay.
For aficionado or novice alike this release is a loving testament
to the complex world of both the man and his incomparable voice.