Though echoing the past, Vintage France (Putumayo World Music; February 26, 2013) proves how alive and hip classic French chanson remains. Several generations of musicians continue to find inspiration in tunes that were first popularized in the early to mid-1900s. On Vintage France, sultry songstresses such as the iconic Juliette Gréco (singing the Belle Époque beauty “La Valse Brune”) and Madeleine Peyroux (with a cheeky renewal of Serge Gainsbourg’s “La Javanaise”) join newcomers Francesca Blanchard (“Sous le Ciel de Paris”) and Dutch jazz harmonica whiz Martijn Luttmer (“Les Parapluies de Cherbourg”). Old master Norbert Slama’s swinging “Nany,” is full of Gypsy jazz energy and retro warmth, and demonstrates the connection between Paris of the 1940s when Slama first performed, and the vibrant French music scene of today.
“French artists have created this beautiful, melodic music that has stood the test of time,” reflects Putumayo’s founder and CEO Dan Storper, who has visited France many times in search of universally appealing French and world music. “Perhaps the greatest surprise,” notes Storper, “was discovering Norbert Slama, a blind octogenarian accordion player who performed with Josephine Baker and Edith Piaf, in my backyard in New Orleans. His performances in a small, vintage café in the Marigny transported me to a bygone era.”
This harmonious collection has deep roots. From the outdoor guingette dances where the waltzing musette instrumentals of early French popular music began, to the cabarets where Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier and other legends entertained a country struggling with the recovery from World War II. Over the last 100 years, the French chanson tradition has undergone a process of evolution, yet retained an inimitable charm.
The musicians featured on this collection, such as Slama, have kept the tradition of rich harmonization and rhythmic nuance alive. “Norbert isn’t stuck,” explains Raphael Bas, Slama’s close musical collaborator, and a masterful guitarist whose rendition of the jazz standard “Confessin’” is also featured on Vintage France. “He has a very open mind as to how the music can evolve. He leaves room for evolution in the interpretation.”
This open-minded evolution is captured on the interpretations of classic songs on Vintage France. “Originally, we were going to focus on vintage recordings of popular French songs. But there were many challenges to using old recordings and it just wasn’t clicking,” Storper relates. “Then, we began to discover some wonderful, contemporary versions. We even asked Francesca Blanchard to record a cover of one of the most popular French songs of all time.”
Fans of Piaf and Gainsbourg, or new listeners looking for an introduction to France’s classic gems, will find exactly what they are looking for on Vintage France.