Maurane ‘Brel’ LP/CD (Blue Wrasse) 5/5

Francophone Belgian singer Maurane was one of the hidden (to the English speaking world at least) gems in the chanson tradition and her passing last year has left a gaping chasm in that genre. Her deep and emotionally powerful voice is heard to best effect on this pared down tribute to the great singer-songwriter, Jacques Brel, and her own work comes highly recommended. An anthology of her work will surely be forthcoming. For the moment, this wonderful epitaph will have to suffice. What appeals about this homage is the degree of reflection taken to ensure that the musical accompaniment is sumptuous, on occasion deviating from the original, and elsewhere, remaining faithful to the Brel interpretation. Thus, ‘Rosa’, is performed as a joyful tango, with a lightness of touch that is memorable. One of a number of highlights is the exquisite take on, ‘Orly’, with guitar and piano to accompany and just the right dose of strings. With some songs, the stripped down to an absolute minimum sound works a treat as on, ‘La chanson des vieux’, with just piano to embellish the voice while, ‘Quand on n’a que l’amour’, has all the feel of a classic folk song with voice and guitar in tandem. By contrast, ‘Une île’, has a tropical flavour, taking a leaf, perhaps, out of the work of Henri Salvador. That feel is taken a step further on, ‘Vesoul’, which is transformed into an uptempo bossa nova piece. A personal favourite is the lavishly supported strings on, ‘Je ne sais pas’, but throughout so loving is the music presented that Brel in person could not have wished for a more faithful interpreter who nonetheless succeeds in marking her own imprint on the song repertoire.

For accomplishing this feat, major thanks are in order, both to Maurane’s daughter, Lou, who oversaw the project under difficult circumstances, and especially to the wonderful pianist and arranger, Philippe Decock, whose masterful work here has made this far from a left over album, but instead a fully completed one that is a truly fitting tribute to both singer and composer.

Tim Stenhouse