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Album Titles

Toto Bona Lokua (2005)
Le Fil, Camille (2006)
1 Fille et 4 Types, Celine Dion
Attraction, Paris Combo
Azul, Helena
Bye Bye Beaute, Coralie Clement
La Chanson Francaise, Various Artists
Les Beaux Dégâts, Francis Cabrel
Les Copains D'Abord, Georges Brassens
Marcher dans le sable, Gérald De Palmas
Motifs, Paris Combo
Princesses Nubiennes, Les Nubians
Quelqu'un m'a dit, Carla Bruni
Rue des Cascades, Yann Tiersen
Salle des Pas Perdus, Coralie Clément

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Album Reviews

Toto Bona Lokua (2005)
It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke: three singers, one from Cameroon, one from Congo, and one French-Carribean walk into a recording studio in Paris…. Richard Bona, Lokua Kanza, and Gerald Toto, all well-regarded (if little-known) artists in their own right, brought their smooth, rich voices together with no plan, just to see what would happen if they each brought a few songs and improvised with each other. Occasionally, one of the artists plays an instrumental accompaniment like guitar, percussion, or bouzouki, but the heart of the album is really the seemingly effortless harmony of the three voices. Some songs sound like a stripped-down version of the best college a cappella group you’ve ever heard, with one voice adding percussive sounds or a driving bass line, while others use more complex arrangements. An unlikely success in the U.S., the trio was recently featured on NPR, and I found their record on special display in the international section of my local record store.
--Recommended by Abbe Spokane

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Le Fil, Camille (2006)
So, I may have been recorded previously as saying that I found Bjork "weird." Most sources seem to cite Bjork as Camille’s closest musical relative, but there’s something about this album that drew me in like Bjork never did. Maybe it’s the French, but there’s much more to like. Most of the accompaniment to Camille’s amazing voice is in fact, Camille’s voice, doing all kinds of sounds, percussion, and even the popping sounds you used to make with your cheeck when you were a kid. Le Fil is different in a satisfying way; it’s evident that Camille sees herself as a vocal artist, not simply a singer, and her experimentation pays off. I find that the album is best heard as one semi-continuous piece, since one track flows effortlessly into another, though no two are the same. I’d love to see her live, because I can’t imagine this music coming from the person pictured on the cover of the album, but perhaps that surprising mismatch is part of the appeal!
- Recommended by Abbe Spokane, Culture Club Assistant Editor

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1 Fille et 4 Types. (2003)
Dion, Celine

celine_dion

The cover to this CD was so vastly different and more quirky than any Celine Dion CD I'd ever seen before that I stopped to listen to it at my local record store. In this case, I'd say the cover was an excellent predictor of the contents of the album. It's been a long time since I actually wished to own a Celine Dion recording, remembering the days before CD players when I would tape songs off the radio, I think I had some sort of obsession with "Power of Love" that now seems somewhat misguided. Anyway, since then, I've pretty much left Celine to my dad, especially "Love was when I loved you," which I still don't get. 1 Fille et 4 Types, however, seems a total departure from everything she's known for: no big ballads, no super-high power notes, no super sappy love lyrics. One gets the feeling they might be seeing some personality shine through the music this time; there's a little rock, a little country (gasp!), a little folk, and a little Jean-Jacques Goldman. I played one of the more rock-y tracks ("Ne bouge pas") for another NCLRC-er, and she guessed "Shakira?" Clearly you just have to go online to http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ where you can sample all the tracks and listen for yourself to this album, a Celine Dion CD for people who don't like Celine Dion.
- Recommended Abbe Spokane

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Attraction
Paris Combo
Paris Combo's new album Attraction has been an even bigger hit in the US than their earlier (and also recommended) Living Room. The quintet's jazzy cabaret style blends perfectly with swing-y upbeat instrumentation and fun lyrics for a sound that's rich yet easy to listen to. If you speak French, you'll enjoy the often humorous and quirky lyrics, and if you don't, you'll find them amusingly curious. (How many other bands sing about NASA?) Look to Paris Combo to brighten up your next cocktail party or entertain you on a long car ride. Both albums are available online and at major record stores.
- Recommended by Abbe Spokane

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Les Copains D'Abord
Brassens, Georges
Georges Brassens is practically a French national treasure. Each year on the anniversary of his death the country celebrates this folk singer with television specials and caf� parties. Recently, several compilations of his work have been released, and Les Copains D'Abord, named after the café that was Brassens' second home, truly represents the essential collection without carrying the price tag of the 10-disc box set. Brassens' sound is unique--one classical guitar and one soothing voice singing clever and catchy tunes. (Picture Fraulein Maria from The Sound of Music only male, French, wittier, and subtly socially conscious.) These addictive songs are great with coffee and a newspaper on a Sunday morning, or anytime you need to relax. This 2-disc collection is available online and at major record stores.
- Recommended by Abbe Spokane

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Quelqu'un m'a dit. (2004)
Bruni, Carla
I heard this CD playing in a local bookstore recently as a "recommended gift idea" for the holidays. At first I mistook Carla Bruni for Coralie Clement, a singer I've previously reviewed. But while Bruni has a similar soft, soothing voice, the tone of her album is more folksy than jazzy, and she's often compared to Norah Jones. In fact, Bruni is an Italian supermodel who also sings (in French with some hints of Italian influence) and plays guitar--I'm glad I heard her music before I could be influenced by stereotypes about her previous occupation. Bruni wrote the music herself, and the album has a depth that is sometimes lacking in records put out by celebrities trying to break in to the music world. I think this CD would appeal to a wide audience, French-speaking or not, and really would make a great gift.
-Recommended by Abbe Spokane

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Les Beaux Dégâts. (2004)
Cabrel, Francis
francis_cabrelI bought Cabrel's previous album, Hors Saison, for my dad while I was studying abroad in Paris-I figured he'd like the laid-back but colorful guitar and soothing voice even though he doesn't speak French. I recently listened to Cabrel's newest album, Les Beaux Dégâts, on the FNAC website (kind of like French Border's or Barnes and Noble), and liked it even more than the last one. This album is a little more upbeat overall, slightly less bluesy and slightly more folk/rock. Cabrel has had serious staying power in France, this being his 10th album, but despite a track on Les Beaux Dégâts that's a French interpretation of Bob Dylan's "Shelter from the Storm," he seems to have drawn little attention in the US. Overall, Francis Cabrel's albums are easy to listen to without falling into the dreaded category of "easy listening."
- Recommended by Abbe Spokane

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Bye Bye Beaute (2005)
Clément, Coralie
This album was certainly no surprise. If you bought her Salle des Pas Perdus, you'll recognize the music right away. Unlike that album, however, songs in Bye Bye Beaute were not stuck in my head immediately, but what it lacks in catchiness, the album makes up for in great arrangements and new instrumentation that compliment her ever-whispery voice. Slightly more electric than Ms. Clement's previous work, this new album is different, but not a disappointment.
Recommended by Christine Meloni

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Salle des Pas Perdus. (2002)
Clément, Coralie
This is one heck of a chanteuse, in the style of French 60's pop, and her album flows seamlessly from one song to the next. I like these songs because the singing is slow and clear enough that I can actually understand the lyrics, however they're also calming, mellow, and great for "resting your eyes" on a sleepy weekend afternoon. Though Clément's voice is breathy, it is certainly not flimsy, and she manages to stand up to the subtle but perfectly placed accompaniment from strings, brass, or piano, and even a duet with her brother, who wrote the lyrics for the album. One song, "Samba de Mon Coeur Qui Bat," was recently featured on the soundtrack for the Diane Keaton/Jack Nicholson movie, "Something's Gotta Give" alongside typical French classics of the same style. Free sample clips from the CD on Amazon or Barnes and Noble give a good idea of what the rest of the album is like-- try it and you'll be hooked!
- Recommended by Abbe Spokane

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Marcher dans le sable (2000)
De Palmas, Gérald
Gérald De Palmas might not bring anything new to the music scene, but his catchy pop-rock sound and honest but never inappropriate portrayals of himself and the world make his 2000 release Marcher dans le sable worth listening to. He deals mainly with love and the lack thereof, but he touches on other issues such as finding purpose in life and being honest to oneself- all of which are very relevant for his younger audience. He manages to touch on serious problems without being too heavy, and his heartfelt delivery imbues most of the tracks with powerful emotion. This CD can also be very useful in the French classroom because his songs are very grammatical (using all sorts of verb tenses and moods correctly!) and his articulation is very clear. In addition, he has a fully developed website http://depalmas.artistes.universalmusic.fr/ that could create classroom activities involving technology and multimedia.
- Recommended by Rex Hamaker

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Azul (2003)
Helena
Helena (whose full name is Helena Noguerra) sings mostly in French, but often songs appear on her albums in Portuguese or English. Her music has become popular in France and Japan, and she is just making her way to the US. Often compared to Portuguese singer Bebel Gilberto (previously reviewed in the Culture Club), Helena has a soft, soothing voice that never sounds strained or screechy, and the accompaniment is a familiar French mix of jazzy and electronic elements. Azul has a decidedly mellow feel, even counting some more upbeat tracks like "M'en aller." You can listen to samples or order the album on Amazon.
- Recommended by Abbe Spokane

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Princesses Nubiennes. (1998)
Les Nubians
Part French, part Cameroonian sisters Hélène and Célia Faussart are the hypnotic voices of Les Nubians. This talented, France-based duo made fans of Neo-soul (a genre best described as a combination of jazz and classic soul) sit up and pay attention with the release of their debut album, Princesses Nubiennes. With their harmonious voices and solid melodies laid over light African percussion, Les Nubians proved they were a force to be reckoned with. They have since successfully collaborated with American sociopolitical lyricist Talib Kweli, and fearlessly covered Sade's classic, "The Sweetest Taboo." Les Nubians' easy, organic sound transcends all language barriers and should impress students, teachers and parents alike. Princesses Nubiennes is available for purchase at: http://www.lesnubians.com/nubiansfr.html .
- Recommended by Ephy Amoah-Ntim

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Motifs. (2005)
Paris Combo
motifsAs soon as I saw this new disc in the store, I snatched it up. To me, Paris Combo is perfect background music for just about anything. You'll see, company almost invariably asks about it, and you'll find yourself singing along while you fold laundry. What I love about Paris Combo the most is that they're albums are like boxes of chocolate, you never know what you're going to get--but it's all good! This new album is no exception--the music is jazzy, Latin, lounge, Middle Eastern, and everything in between. The lyrics and vocals, as always, are rich, witty, and incredibly engaging. I was interested to see that my computer classified them as "Alternative Punk." Alternative, maybe, but punk? I don't think so. Available from Amazon.
- Recommended by Abbe Spokane

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Rue des Cascades. (2002)
Tiersen, Yann
If the only album you've listened to by composer Yann Tiersen is the soundtrack to Amélie, then you've been missing out. Tiersen's trademark magical style shines in Rue des Cascades; if you sit back on a park bench and close your eyes, you'll think you're back in Paris. Four songs on this album also appear on the Amélie soundtrack, but the other 11 tracks are worth it by themselves. Tiersen plays more than 7 instruments on the recording, and his melodies really set a scene and even tell a story, often more powerfully than lyrics can. There's something about Tiersen's style that I find incredibly pleasant. Tiersen's music is lighter than traditional classical music and easier on the ears, but more engaging and catchier than the "new age" music your yoga instructor plays while you meditate.
--Recommended by Abbe Spokane

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La Chanson Francaise. (1997)
Various Artists
This CD is a wonderful compilation of songs from possibly the greatest singers of the World War II generation in France including Edith Piaf, Josephine Baker, and Maurice Chevalier. Listening to this collection of melodious tunes, you will feel yourself transported to another time and place. In a 1998 review, Jim Trageser wrote: "Outside of Frank Sinatra, it's hard to think of a singer who so defined an entire generation as did Edith Piaf" This CD features two of Piaf's signature songs: "Elle Frequentait la rue Pigalle" in which Piaf belts out the sorrowful tale of a woman abandoned at daylight by a man after a night of love, and "L'Accordeoniste" which tells of a beautiful young woman watching as her musician leaves her to go off to war. African American Josephine Baker was born in the US but gained immediate and immense fame in France. Nicknamed "Black Venus" and "Black Pearl" by her French admirers, she passionately proclaims the two loves of her life (the USA and Paris) in "J'ai Deux Amours." It was once said that Paris had two monuments: the Eiffel Tower and singer Maurice Chevalier. On this CD Chevalier sings "Paris Sera Toujours Paris" in which he happily proclaims Paris to be the most beautiful city in the world, and "Fleur de Paris" in which he celebrates the end of the war and the occupation of Paris. Other singers featured on this CD include Charles Trenet, Mistinguett, Tino Rossi, and Berthe Sylva.
Recommended by Christine Meloni

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