Nimbus Records on Facebook Nimbus Records on Twitter Nimbus Records on YouTube


Enchanté! The Great French Stars: 50 bonnes chansons 1926-1961



“Enchanté!” – we are delighted to welcome you Retrospective’s cavalcade of great French singing stars, from the 20s through to the early 60s. Here are 50 hand-picked recordings by those exotic entertainers who established the Gallic tradition of the popular chanson. Now all the most famous singing celebrities from the rich story of French cabaret are presented on two generously filled CDs.

Enchanté begins with long-legged, husky-voiced Mistinguett and one of the best-known Frenchmen in history: Maurice Chevalier, serenading Louise and Valentine in 1929. Among the early stars are Lucienne Boyer, the sensational Folies-Begères entertainer Joséphine Baker, Tino Rossi and, of course, the great Charles Trenet. Perhaps the odd man out (not French and didn’t sing) is Belgian guitar genius Django Reinhardt, the most original jazzman Europe has ever produced, represented here by his most famous compositions Nuages and Minor Swing.

Disc Two moves post-war to feature strongly the chanteuse who epitomises French cabaret singing, the inimitable ‘little sparrow’ Édith Piaf who sings six timeless classics. In her wake are such distinguished upholders of the tradition as Yves Montand, George Guétary, Georges Brassens, Charles Aznavour, Juliette Gréco and so many more. “Bonne écoute!”

Enchanté! The Great French Stars: 50 bonnes chansons 1926-1961


This is an excellent collection which once again reminds us of the sheer quality of so many of these singers and their classic material, and I should also mention the inclusion of a couple of instrumental classics, Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelly's NUAGES and MINOR SWING. Enchanté is the word.InTune

They are mostly of singers but not entirely; so, we hear various instrumentalists including ace accordionist Emile Vacher and Reinhardt and Grappelli whose style was once, in the 1970s, reached for on EMI LPs by Menuhin and Previn. There’s also Maurice Alexander's Sous les toits de Paris which we are reminded was used as a signature tune for a long defunct BBC radio programme French Cabaret. That presumably did for French chanson what the wonderful Robert Cushman did so intelligently for music theatre in Book, Music and Lyrics (Radio 3, 1970s into 1980s). Time to bring these things back or repeat them if they still exist in useable recordings.
Chevalier’s Louise is more French than his later versions though he sings in English and very forward. Both his tracks were recorded in New York on two consecutive days. The nasal yet seductive voice of Mistinguett is caught in her three tracks. Her duet in Je cherche un millionare is sweetly cosy and breathes up-close into your headphones or loudspeakers. One of the nice things about this set, for people with my very meagre knowledge of the genre, is to introduce so many unfamiliar names, Damia is seductive in Cest mon gigolo; likewise, Frehel's La Java Bleue. Lucienne Boyer 's Parlez moi d'amour has a music box intro to introduce her suavely shaped brand of seduction.

Josephine Baker was not French but well and truly adopted and her lightly New York accent in all three songs from the 1930 catch her in affecting torch-song mode. She is the centre of attention in Retrospective RTR4270. The Corsican roots of Tino Rossi are heard to great effect in his two songs which are underpinned by Hawaiian touches in Guitare d'amour. Down the vocal scale for Jean Sablon. You can understand why J’attendrai, recorded in 1939, proved irresistible and became the French song of WW2.
There are two breathy swing tracks from Reinhardt and Grappelli. Their Nuages has some spicy thunder-dark moments which are quite out of the popular highway They are more of a ‘byway’ and may yet catch the more classically attuned taste. We end CD 1 with the iconic La Mer from the aristocrat of lightly applied joy and nostalgia, Charles Trenet. The song is a triumph of all-conquering suave yearning and strangely melancholic seduction. Disc 2 launches with three Trenet songs from French films of the period 1938-43. The almost immanent Boum is from a 1938 film La Route Enchantée. He wrote many songs, as did quite a few of these singers. The three songs here are lightly breathed and virtuoso examples of grey feathery delight and charm. He sings with a lightly knowing manner. Resistance is futile - capitulation is the only option.
The six Piaf tracks present a singer whose voice could hardly be more of a contrast. Her rawly wrought vibrato and emotional vibrancy tipping over into abrasion are all there. Her two signature tracks can be heard: La Vie en Rose and Non, Je ne Regrette Rien.
Next, a singer who made it onto the international stage: Charles Aznavour. Armenian-born, he became a vibrant presence within France and, through two 1970s songs, outside France. Those two songs were: She and Old-Fashioned Way.

Perhaps your attention has been snagged by the sound-track of a commercial or by someone's "life-tracks" or Desert Island Disc choices. This is the way to take the next steps. No need to hesitate. At the very least you will be able to hold your own on the subject of French chansons when it next comes up. As a listening experience these two discs offer so much more. Rob Barnett, MusicWeb-International