Fifty-five-year-old Dee Dee Bridgewater has always seemed to move her career to the beat of her own jazz drum. As host of NPR’s weekly radio show, Jazzset, the singer has been able to keep abreast of some of the best and brightest jazz talents of today. But Bridgewater’s talent stretches far beyond the studio. The musician has graced the stages of Europe and won acclaim and awards as a result, including the Victorie de la Musique, one of France’s highest musical honors. So it shouldn’t come as any great surprise that Bridgewater pays tribute to France with this album which, with the exception of a few verses on one or two songs, is performed entirely in French. But don’t worry non-Francophones, what you might not understand in the lyrics you’ll get in Bridgewater’s soothing, smooth style that brings to mind Cassandra Wilson, Shirley Horn, Josephine Baker, and a certain Billie.
The record begins with a Parisian café accordion and waltz-like arrangement for the title track, which means “I have two loves”. After the accordion chimes down, Bridgewater starts with a light, island flavor as Louis Winsberg paints a pretty picture with some Hawaiian-esque guitar. She has no problems delivering the lyrics perfectly without any stumbles or bumps. Rather it’s as fluent and flawless as anything you might here from a native Parisian jazz singer. Somewhat dreamy and romantic, the tune will put you in a good mood even at the worst of times. There’s also a slight swing to the song that brings to mind arrangements by Henry Mancini, circa The Pink Panther. From there, the album gets up-tempo with a song that seems completely out of its realm for such a pace - “La Mer (Beyond the Sea)”, a French rendition of the Bobby Darin signature. Bridgewater has a lot of fun with this track as the guitar plucks sound more like a drum beat, complementing the light cymbal hits. Perhaps only Diana Krall could give this Flint, Michigan chanteuse a run for her money on this effort.
While rooted in French, the songs themselves run the gamut of jazz, especially on the Parisian-meets-Middle Eastern aura hovering over “Ne Me Quitte Pas” as Bridgewater splits her time singing and speaking the lyrics despairingly. Think of Sade’s natural knack for soul/R&B and you should get the gist of this well-executed number. And she’s downright sassy on the slow starting but punchy, finger-snapping, tango-inducing “Mon Homme (My Man)”. If there’s a lull in the album, it might be during “Que Reste-T-Il De Nos Amours”, which opens as if the guitarist is going to do all of the work. Bridgewater’s voice is on equal level with the guitar, resulting in an odd type of tune. You don’t really know who is stepping on whom throughout the track. This unfortunately means more sizzle (or schmaltz) and little steak.
The biggest gamble Bridgewater takes is with the 10-minute “La Belle Vie (The Good Life)”. Ten minutes for any song is almost a guarantee that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, however this track takes its time getting off the ground as she hits each note brilliantly, drawing you in and leaving you hanging on, evoking images of a smoky jazz bar of yesteryear. And, yes, most likely one in Paris. The tenderness of her delivery is the selling point as Minino Garay adds light percussion. It might put some to sleep, but just at that moment, Bridgewater breaks out and brings the song to another sultry, svelte level. “La Vie En Rose” is another worthwhile listen with its primitive tribal percussion that builds into a song that is on the cusp of a jungle-meets-jazz arrangement. Ending as well as it started with the scatty “Les Feuilles Mortes”, Bridgewater has made a record that proves the reward sometimes outweighs the risk.
// Notes from the Road
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