Arthur H ‘Les 50 plus belles chansons’ 3CD (Universal France) 4/5

The son of 1970s rocker Jacques Higelin, Arthur H occupies a left-field position in the French music scene and as such the parallel with Tom Waits is not without merit. Indeed the gruff delivery and jazzy hues are not dissimilar either. Arthur H has been inspired by the prose of Boris Vian, a writer and jazz critic/trumpeter who personified the left bank chic of Paris during the late 1940s and 1950s and undoubtedly the early part of Serge Gainsbourg’s career. His career is now past its twentieth year and this three CD set carefully interweaves the progression in his career trajectory, deliberating mixing up songs rather than opting for the standard chronological treatment. From the early period of the 1990s ‘Cool jazz’ captures the acoustic double bass accompaniment and pared down piano and drums. Possibly another influence was the English group Carmel who were a cult hit at the time in France during the mid-1980s onwards at a time when Sade was hitting the airwaves on both sides of the Channel. By the mid-1990s Arthur H was beginning to experiment with his style and a 1996 collaboration with Nicolas Repac resulted in the introduction of sampling and a veering towards a trip-hop fusion. In contrast by 2002 the ‘Piano solo’ album took H in an entirely different direction with simply voice and piano. Major success had hitherto eluded the musician and maybe this consideraiton inspired him to record an electro-pop album with ‘Dancing with Madonna’, thereby securing some much needed media attention beyond the fringes. By 2011 Arthur H had parted company with his long-time musical associates and the album ‘Baba love’ found him yet again changing musical direction. It should be apparent that Arthur H is a musician of some integrity who is eager never to rest on his musical laurels and become stuck in a given groove. The lyrical basslines of several songs including ‘La lune’, piano vamps and distinctive vocals will appeal greatly to those who appreciate their music belonging to the non-commercial variety. Tim Stenhouse