Isabelle Boulay ‘Merci Serge Reggiani’ (Wrasse) 5/5

isabelle-boulayFrench-Canadian singer Isabelle Boulay is little known over here, but judging by the superb performance on this tribute album, that may be about to change. This album is a delicious slice of retro music firmly in the French chanson tradition and the singer Boulay is paying homage to, Serge Reggiani, is internationally best known as an actor of some standing, notably in the film ‘Le Casque d’Or’. However, in his native France Reggiani is much loved also for his interpretations of the songs of Georges Moustaki as well as those by the pairing of Jean-Loup Dabadie and Jacques Datin, and these form the bedrock of the compositions contained within. Boulay, who possesses both a deep and emotionally charged voice, a prerequisite in order to remain faithful to the Reggiani songbook, is at her most effective on the acoustic guitar led and uplifting number that is ‘Le Vieux Couple’ which receives here an outstanding rendition. There are hints of Brel, who was surely a major influence on Boulay, on the accordion accompaniment to ‘Ma Fille’ while the song ‘De quelles Amériques’ is distinguished by the use of orchestrations and percussion, with arrangements in general being taken care of by husband Benjamin Boulay. Simplicity is a much undervalued virtue and here the deceptively simple, yet highly effective cover design of a red rose speaks volumes of the quality music on offer throughout this album. The album has in fact become something of a cult hit in France and English language listeners will find much to enjoy if they are searching for that classic French chanson sound.

Tim Stenhouse