Sunday, December 23, 2018

1968 - France Gall

France Gall
Polydor 530 916-2

I did not want to let 2018 slip away without acknowledging the passing of my favorite French singer, France Gall, back in January of this year.  This is my favorite of her albums aside from compilations.  It is a 2018 reissue of a record originally released by Philips as 844.706 BY.  I bought it originally on CD many years ago and was delighted to finally get it on vinyl this year.  It was a transitional record for the 20 year old Gall as she moved away from the girlish sound of her Ye-Ye period in search of a more mature sound.  The record begins with her 1967 single, "Toi que je veux" in which she declares her desire for her lover.  Despite her ardor she worries about the end of their relationship but nonetheless savors her passion.  Her declaration that "Je me suis ouverte aujourd'hui à la vie" sums up the flavor of the song and the album as well.  The music of the song is exuberant with a chamber pop flavor that suits Gall's voice very well.  Her vocal on the song really sends me.  "Chanson Indienne" expresses the unhappiness of an expatriate from India who misses her country.  The song was written by Gall's father Robert and David Whitaker who directed the orchestra and arranged most of the record.  The song features a sitar and Indian style percussion which gives it an exotic sound.  Gall's voice cuts through the elaborate arrangement expressing the emotions in the song very convincingly.  My French is not good enough to figure out "Gare a toi... Gargantua" which appears to be inspired by the play on words in the title.  Gargantua is presumably the Rabelais' character and the song makes numerous references to his ravenous appetite which apparently extends beyond food to women as well.  I believe the song is full of double entendres that warn Gargantua to not extend his consumption habits to other women.  It seems like a very sexy song unless I'm completely misunderstanding it which is certainly possible.  In contrast to the racy subject matter, musically the song recalls the childish style of the songs Gall was singing as a teenager which creates some interesting tension.  In "Avant la bagarre" to celebrate her 20th birthday the singer's boyfriend takes her to a restaurant that she used to go to and they run into her former flame and the two men get into a fight.  The song is a straight ahead rocker driven by a pulsing bass line and electric organ riffs.  It is one of my favorite tracks on the album.  "Chanson pour que tu m'aimes un peu" is a pathetic plea for the singer to be loved a little by someone who does not even pay attention to her.  The song was written by her father and her brother Patrice and I find it weird that her father would create such a degrading song for her to sing.  Musically the song is very appealing, guided by a hypnotic acoustic guitar riff and a sensitive vocal from Gall that makes it easier to swallow the unpleasant lyrics.  Side one concludes with Serge Gainsbourg's magnificent "Néfertiti" which is one of my all time favorites in Gall's catalog.  It was released as a single in 1967.  It is a sensual ode to the Egyptian queen which with typical Gainsbourgian perversion even rhapsodizes about the odor of her mummified body.  The music is very alluring with a Middle Eastern flavor and a seductive vocal from Gall that melts me.  Side two begins with "La fille d'un garçon" which is about a summer romance on vacation that fades in the winter.  The music is appropriately idyllic driven by a throbbing bass line and tasteful strings.  Gall's vocal is absolutely radiant reflecting the warmth of a glowing heart.  In "Bébé requin" Gall describes herself as a baby shark seeking to devour her lover's heart.  It was a single in 1967.  It is a catchy little tune driven by a staccato bass riff and punchy bursts of brass with a music hall flavor as well.  "Teenie Weenie Boppie" is another Gainsbourg opus which vividly describes a fatally bad LSD trip that includes a hallucination of Mick Jagger drowning in the Thames.  In contrast to the lurid lyrics, the music evokes the bubble gum sound of Gall's records of the mid-1960s.  The song is loaded with hooks and the sweetness of Gall's vocal would suggest a trip to the candy store rather than a drug trip.  "Les yeux bleus" is a love song by Robert Gall and Claude-Henri Vic.  The song has a jazzy sound and Gall handles the demanding vocal with ease and grace.  "Made in France" compares France and England focusing mostly on cultural differences.  It is a charming song that again recalls Gall's Ye-Ye period.  Gall trades verses with the background singers and sings the chorus herself.  Gall's vocal plays up the humor in the lyrics and combined with the engaging tune, it makes this song irresistible.  It is another one of my favorite tracks.  "La petite" is a duet with Maurice Biraud in which an older man is attracted to the daughter of his friend.  Biraud expresses the opinion of the man and Gall sings from the perspective of the daughter.  The old man is romantic and protective, the daughter is unsentimental and eager to learn the ways of love.  I find the song to be creepy particularly since Robert Gall helped write it and the girlish quality France Gall brings to her vocal makes it even more disturbing.  The song's only saving grace is that the music is very enjoyable but it still gives the album an unsavory finish.  It is the only blemish on an otherwise wonderful album.  Even though she did not write any of the songs, I think this record was a personal record for Gall.  Its recurring themes of growing emotionally, learning to love and awakening sensuality probably had some resonance for her.  She certainly sings the songs with sincerity and purpose.  This record is an expression of her opening up to life and embracing adulthood.  I've always found her voice enchanting, but hearing her sing more sophisticated songs with the earnestness and passion of youth really gets to me.  I've been crazy about this album ever since I first heard it.  I like all of Gall's albums, but this one seems especially unique to me, I love the way it merges the music of her youth with the music of her adulthood.  I think it is really special, as was she.  I'm going to miss her very much.  Recommended to fans of Lulu.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sound of Christmas - The Ramsey Lewis Trio

Sound of Christmas
The Ramsey Lewis Trio
Cadet LP 687X

I put this one on to trim the tree this year.  It is more jazzy than Christmasy but it put me in a good mood.  The album was originally issued on Argo, Cadet reissued it in the mid 1960s.  When I was a child someone gave me a 45 of the Ramsey Lewis Trio's performance of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" backed with "Winter Wonderland."  It was the first jazz record I can remember ever hearing.  I did not particularly like it although I did keep it and I still have it.  Many years later I started to like jazz and when I came across this album I remembered that old 45 and bought this.  It does not swing as much as I would like, but it is tasteful and has a pleasant vibe to it.  I particularly like side one which features Lewis along with bassist El Dee Young and drummer Red Holt.  On side two the trio is augmented by strings which I find frequently obtrusive.  The album opens with a moody interpretation of Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby" which features some very propulsive piano work from Lewis that brings out the bluesy feeling within the song.  It is my favorite track although it is pretty gloomy for the opening cut on a Christmas record.  The record perks up with a swinging take on "Winter Wonderland" that gets me bopping.  "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" starts off slow and somber, before picking up a little steam but it remains a surprisingly downbeat interpretation of the song.  Lewis' own "Christmas Blues" follows.  It is straight ahead rhythm and blues given a Christmas feeling by the incessant jingling of bells through the song.  Side one concludes with a lively version of "Here Comes Santa Claus" that is another one of my favorite tracks.  Side two begins "The Sound of Christmas" by Lewis and Riley Hampton who arranged and conducted the strings for side two.  The song alternates between some dynamic work from the Trio and silky smooth orchestral passages.  Unfortunately the orchestra wins, but the song has its moments.  It is followed by a sappy version of Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" that is largely dominated by the orchestra although Lewis does break free briefly with an engaging solo.  Mostly though it sounds like cocktail lounge jazz.  Lewis fares better with "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" where his energetic playing dominates the song and is supported by an impressively dramatic arrangement.  "Sleigh Ride" features more exuberant playing from Lewis that is enhanced with support from the orchestra.  It is one of the best interpretations of the song that I've ever heard.  The album concludes with Frank Loesser's "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" which Lewis attacks as if it were a bluesy torch song.  The orchestra keeps him from going too far off the rails and it gives the record a nice emotional finish.  This record has limitations as Christmas music.  Children will probably hate it and it is not festive enough to satisfy many people's notions of what Christmas music should be.  It works great for me though.  By mid-December I'm usually sick of Christmas music, Lewis' interpretative approach appeals to me more than the standard carols.  Also this is a very romantic sounding record, I recommend it for cuddling with your special someone on a cold wintry evening sipping an adult beverage and looking at the lights twinkling on the tree.