Guénaëlle et MAM
A Georges Brassens
[Frémeaux & Associés (2011)]
Pierre de Gaillande sings Georges Brassens
[Barbès Records (2011)]
When it comes to French songwriters, Georges Brassens (1921-1981) is in a class of his own. As with Bob Dylan, and ahead of the pack of all other creators of French chansons, a steady stream of wildly disparate “tribute-type” albums devoted to Brassens have come out over the course of the last few decades. Just within the last couple of years, Latin, rock, and African artists have released albums of Brassens songs in their respective styles. A singer named Guénaëlle, ably accompanied by the duo known as MAM on Brassens Passionnément, has become only the second woman to record an album of Brassens songs, one that’s based on her cabaret show devoted to the man. As a woman she brings a different perspective to the songs and the arrangements are appropriately original. However, for anyone not fluent in French, or unfamiliar with the songs, this may not be the best place to start.
Although the highly influential Brassens was especially well known as a lyricist in his lifetime, he loved jazz, and his songs had a bouncy rhythm that has made them especially appealing to jazz musicians. Guitarist Rodolphe Raffalli wasn’t the first jazz musician to record an album of Brassens songs, but he’s certainly among the very best to have done so. In 2001, Raffalli was in his early 40s when he recorded À Georges Brassens, his debut. The album, which came out 80 years after Brassens was born and twenty years after his own death, sold close to 20,000 copies, which made it a gold record for jazz in France. After a second acclaimed CD, Raffalli released another album of Brassens material in late 2006. The group, consisting of two rhythm guitarists and a bassist, was the same as on the first album. Raffalli has played with some of the greatest Gypsy swing guitarists from Paris, and his approach to Brassens is derived from the Django and Henri Crolla styles. Brassens had a flair for strong melodies, and Raffalli and his group brilliantly convey the lyricism and fervour that one associates with the music derived from, but not limited to, Gypsy swing music. Intégrale Raffalli is a two-CD box set that comprises the 25 tracks that made up the two Brassens albums.
Although Brassens’s songs have reportedly been translated into twenty languages, there have been only a few attempts at translating the songs into English, even though his influence has spilled over to British singers such as Jake Thackray and Leon Rosselson. Now Pierre De Gaillande, who was born in Paris and raised in California, but who has been living in New York for nearly twenty years, has released Bad Reputation, which is apparently the first English-language collection of Brassens songs. Unlike some other attempts at translating Dylan and others, Gaillande has remained faithful to the original intent of each song. Backed by a fine quartet of musicians, with a few guests such as Karen Ann adding vocals to a couple of tracks, Gaillande sings a baker’s dozen of Brassens classics, including the title song, “To Die for Your Ideas,” “Song for the Countryman,” and “Public Benches.” Brassens was an anarchist whose songs, some of which are bawdy, often took jabs at the hypocrisy of the conservative class. He released a dozen albums altogether so we can hope to hear more from Gaillande in the future.
—Paul-Emile Comeau (Comeauville, NS, Canada)