Bernard Lavilliers ‘Baron Samedi’ (Barclay France) 2CD Limited Edition 4/5

Bernard-LavilliersNow into this the twentieth album of an illustrious career, St. Etienne born singer Bernard Lavilliers was one of the singer-songwriters who came to prominence during the very late 1970s and early-mid 1980s. From early on in his career, travelling to hear other sounds has become a major source of creative inspiration and consequently he has cultivated a growing interest in world roots music that has been continuously woven into his music. Think of him as something of a Damon Albarn a good twenty five years before the latter expressed an interest in other global sounds. In the recent past Lavilliers has recorded reggae with Tikhen Jah Fakoly, Cape Verdean morna with the late great Cesaria Evora and dabble in Brazilian, salsa and other tropical adventures. This latest project was inspired by a trip to visit artist friends in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake that hit its capital, Port-au-Prince, in January 2010. The title of the album is taken from a silhouette the singer saw on a cemetery wall of Baron Samedi who was an important figure in the Haitian voodoo religious cult. Several songs on the album relate directly to his visit. An obvious contender for radio play is the funk-tinged ‘Y a pas qu’à New York’ which, after a Brazilian samba-influenced guitar and percussion intro, leads into a gloriously soulful groove with beautiful female harmonies and tasteful strings to accompany. The title track has all the hustle and bustle of downtown Port-au-Prince and connections with Brazil are once again evoked with the use of pandeiro and tambourim. A recurring feature of Lavilliers’ latter half career has been the gentle acoustic songs and here the examples are well up to standard with a lovely melodic pared down feel to ‘Rest’là Maloya’ and another relaxed vocal delivery plus acoustic guitar on ‘Sans fleurs ni couronnes’. The downtempo atmosphere is augmented by strings on ‘Villa Noailles’. However, Bernard Lavilliers is a musician of great integrity as well as possessing a deep social conscience. He is always eager to explore new avenues and one of his most ambitious undertakings ever is contained on the second CD which is just one long poem by Blaise Cendrars ‘Trans-Siberian Prose’ and The little Jehanne of France’ set to music with the aid of jazz double bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons and the Quatuor Ebène string quartet. For another trip into nostalgia, an inventive reworking of Kurt Weil’s evergreen ‘Mack the Knife’ resurfaces here with a Tom Waits style eclectic interpretation re-titled ‘La complainte de Mackie’ with trombone to accompany him. Producer Romain Humeau, equally frontman of group Eiffel, ensures that nothing sounds dated. Lavilliers, now in his fifth decade, as a performer, is something of a French musical institution and this album is a perfect illustration of why. As an ideal compliment, the Brazilian and lusophone influenced ‘Carnets de Bord’ (2009) makes a wonderful companion. An extensive tour the length and breadth of France began on 8 February and will continue until 20th June. Tim Stenhouse