[7 January 2009]
Marianne Dissard lives in Arizona but doesn’t sound like it. She sounds French. She is French. Her style is intimate Paris chanson, a low-voiced delivery, the singer addressing the microphone as if it’s your ear and she doesn’t want anyone in the room besides you to overhear whatever it is that she’s saying. Dissard is easy to warm to, as chanson singers so often are. Who doesn’t enjoy being addressed as a confidant, the one faithful listener in a thousand? “Oh,” she might well be saying with this low voice, “I’ve had some rough patches in my love life, but you—you’re the one I know will hear me out if I want to talk about it. I trust you.” This sung friendship is very sweet. When non-French people talk about the French being natural flirts and lovemakers, then things like this are surely part of it—this cultural aptitude for mutually flattering intimacies.
L’Entredeux is her debut solo recording. Co-writing credits go to Joey Burns of Calexico, a Tucson band that likes to celebrate its local roots and its proximity to the music of Mexico. The pair of them have worked together before. Have you heard Hot Rail, the album Calexico released in 2000? Do you remember “The Ballad of Cable Hogue”? Dissard was the treacherous girlfriend. The video shows her manipulating a cigar and pursing her lips around scornful plumes of smoke. There’s a strain of the Calexico sound running through many of the songs on L’Entredeux but I don’t know if I’d go as far as the publicity material on Dissard’s Myspace site, which tells us that her music sits “between Southwestern noir and acoustic French pop.” Dissard’s singing puts it closer to the latter than the former. The harmonica on “Sans-facon” has a cowboyish haunted-prairie sound, and the guitars and drums in “Les Confettis” come from the kind of Americana alt folk rock that Calexico enjoys, but the American touches on L’Entredeux are outgunned by Dissard’s not-American voice, and by regular pieces of instrumental Frenchness. The accordion on “Les Draps Sourds” and its reprise “Le Draps Sourds (Waltz)” is French all the way, even though it was played by a man who hails from New York state. When the album takes a detour into a female/male duet with “Trop Expres” the result is more likely to remind an English-speaking listener of “Je T’aime (Moi Non Plus)” than anything even remotely Anglo.
It’s not unusual to hear Americanisms on French pop albums, so it would be easy enough to listen to L’Entredeux and not realise that it was made in North America rather than Europe. The publicity material is right, though: there’s something un-French about it, a directness, an absence of the over-processed sleekness that at times mars pop music produced in France. Someone I know once said that no French producer should ever be trusted. That’s an exaggeration, but refinement can be carried too far, and the French are sometimes the ones carrying it there. Part of me wishes that L’Entredeux‘s “Southern noir” could have been taken over the border into Mexico because I’m curious to know what a French-Mex femme-pop album would sound like, but never mind. Anyone looking for close aural friendships that last about forty-two minutes should still get a kick out of it.