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Charles TRENET - Le Fou Chantant - A Centenary Tribute
La mer
Vous êtes jolie
La mer
Je chante
Jardin du mois de Mai
J'ai ta main
Y'a de la joie
La cigale et la fourmi (with Django Reinhardt)
La polka du roi
Bonsoir, jolie madame
La vie qui va
Le temps des cérises
Vous oubliez votre cheval
Que reste-t-il de nos amours?
En écoutant mon coeur chanter
Ah, dis ah, dis ah, bonjour!
Marie, Marie
Douce France
Quand j'étais p'tit
Mes jeunes années
Mam'zelle Clio
L'âme des poètes
La folle complainte
La romance de Paris
Vous qui passez sans me voir
Charles Trenet and various orchestras and artists
rec. 1937-1954. ADD

As French as a baguette, upon his death in 2001 Charles Trenet had managed to shake off the taint of supposed collaboration with the occupying Nazis and become a national institution, revered and beloved. Had he written no other song than “La mer”, since recorded in countless cover-versions in myriad forms, translations and arrangements by other artists, he would certainly have been remembered for just that one mega-hit - but as it was he wrote the lyrics and music for hundreds; this compilation is the pick of them.
His musical idiom is essentially swing alternating and combining with the more intimate style of the French chanson or mélodie. The recording and issue of “La mer” was delayed three years until 1946 because Columbia didn’t think it jazzy enough but it soon became his anthem, just as his “La douce France” became a gentler domestic alternative to “La Marseillaise”. His range of voices was extraordinary; he was essentially a baritone crooner who knew how to exploit the microphone expertly. Sometimes his voice is a deep brown baritone; at others he affects a light, breathy, caressing tenor. He could also assume a quasi-operatic power, such as he employs at the climax to “La mer”, or drop into a variety of comic modes, such as in “La Polka du Roi” – and always there is that very Gallic fast vibrato bordering on a tremolo which is somehow so suave, attractive and faintly louche.
His diction is so clear that the average Anglophone Francophile with a bit of school French will be able to pick up a good deal despite the absence of a libretto – and a cursory Internet search soon makes those lyrics readily available. Many of the subjects of his songs are conventional – love, patriotism, lost youth, Paris – yet there is often a witty, funny and even surreal quality to the words. Trenet will suddenly sneak a whimsical, almost subversive flight of fancy into an otherwise apparently innocent narrative. To English ears – I cannot speak for the native French but I imagine the effect is much the same – there is an extraordinary poetry in the content and inflection of his French. One of his most famous songs is a swing setting of Verlaine’s “Chanson d’automne” and as much as I love the music I cannot for the life of me hear anything other than a complete mismatch between the jaunty musical idiom and the lugubrious text; my preference is for Trenet’s own flashes of poetic brilliance, as in his description of the métro train emerging from its tunnel:
Miracle sans nom à la station Javelle
On voit le métro qui sort de son tunnel
Grisé de soleil, de chansons et de fleurs
Il court vers le bois, il court à toute vapeur.
The presence of Django Reinhardt and the “Quintette du Hot Club de France” in “La cigale et la fourmi” is an added bonus. It seems that in order to pack this disc to the max with 27 hits it was necessary almost to do away with gaps between tracks; one follows another disconcertingly quickly. The mono sound is seductively atmospheric and redolent of the era; it’s hard to listen to any of the numbers here without simultaneously smiling and succumbing to a sense of nostalgia.

Ralph Moore
See also review by Rob Barnett
It’s hard to listen to these numbers without simultaneously smiling and succumbing to a sense of nostalgia.

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