La Grande Sophie ‘Nos Histoires’ (Polydor/Universal France) 4/5

la-grande-sophieSinger-songwriter Sophie Huriaux aka la grande Sophie is little known outside France, but highly respected within and is now one of the leading lights of French musicians in their mid-forties. The mood throughout is intimate and pared down. While her early albums were energetic, the last two have been more intimate in nature (her previous recording, ‘La Place du fantôme’ from 2012 won the prestigious Victoires de la Musique award) and this repeats a winning formula of tried and tested musicians plus a poetic vision of life in France in the twenty-first century, as well as her frequent travels that inspire the subject matter of the repertoire. If the songs are relatively concise, then there is absolutely no filler. La grande Sophie began singing in small bars and this has undoubtedly influenced her style with the emphasis very much on quality songs and storytelling. While the musical accompaniment is predominantly acoustic and could date from any era, there is a subtle use of electronica that hints at more contemporary times. The combination of instrumentation works a treat on the opener, ‘Les portes claquent’, (‘Doors slam’) which has a catchy funk-tinged bass line. This writer liked the sparse sounding, ‘Les lacs artificiels’ best of all. In places the album is akin to having an intimate conversation with someone and grande Sophie’s quasi-spoken delivery and pretty voice adds to the mystery. Her uncertainties are those of a forty something and make for compelling material as on, ‘La maison de doutes’ (‘The house of doubts’) with a lovely repeated piano vamp. Inspired equally be women writers such as Delphine de Vigan, la grande Sophie offers a poetic reading on, ‘Je n’ai rien vu venir’ (I saw nothing coming’). Allusions to distant places where the singer has performed is the subject of ‘Hanoi’, where la grande Sophie’s previous tour ended. Political interest is sustained on ‘Maria Yudina’, in tribute to a Russian pianist who was opposed to the Stalinist regime. A basic knowledge of French would help to better appreciate the richness of the text, but the music is strong enough to appeal in its own right.

Tim Stenhouse