Marianne's Balcony

Frankly, don't even bother reading this review. Just go out and buy the album. Trust me, you'll thank me that you did...

To be honest, I didn't know that much about Marianne Bel. All I had to go with was a very strong recommendation that I check out her debut album "Le Balcon" and a link to a blog article (in French, naturellement) here

And while twenty-something Marianne may come from a musical family who has wisely eschewed a career in football to learn guitar, violin and pen some serious chansons and canciones... all I can say is - WOW!!! (and yes I'm becoming aware that this is a somewhat overused superlative by this blog - but with this album the "WOW!!!" is most definitely justified.) 

Even upon the first listen it is obviously apparent that here we have yet another extremely talented French-Canadian singer-songwriter who, similar to a number of her Quebec-based contemporaries, has not only been unafraid to blur the boundaries of different musical genres, but also pulled-off the end result with seemingly effortless aplomb.

The accompanying sleeve notes describe an album that converges folk, jazz and poetry; and those aforementioned musical notes are immediately detectable in spades - there's a nice symmetry to the composition and structure of the album. The unashamedly country "Le pans de rideau" has a detectable Jazz undercurrent, while guitar, violin and banjo ensures that the album's folklorique roots are to the fore on both "Les couilles" and the album's title track.

The album's opener "Blanc et noire" is a perfect example of the statement this album is making - think Zaz with a simple double bass laying down the back-beat and waiting until the horn section really kicks in. I suspect that renowned economist and NYT columnist Paul Krugman just might like this. 

The reference to Zaz is quite deliberate, because in a similar vein, Marianne Bel is first and foremost a bona-fide chanteuse who sings proper chansons, as she ably demonstrates on "L’aveugle et le mime". It's also obvious from even a cursory listen to this album reveals a vocalist equally at home with a multitude of different styles - jazz, country, folklorico, simmering ballads or toe-tapping pop songs.

However, it's probably fairer to say that this album is a far more ambitious affair than the sleeve notes hint at. The atmospheric "Prisonero", sung note-perfectly a cappella style in Spanish, is an achingly beautifully lament which shares several roots with its Iberian counterpart Fado, (frankly, I'm trying desperately to convey how haunting this song is - it's a bit of a favourite), while the horns on "Les outardes" add a real flavour of Mexico and mariachi, providing a tease of Latin culture that occasionally surfaces throughout the album. 

In sharp contrast, "Dagmar" sees Marianne turn her hand to a nigh-on, unashamed, perfect (and wickedly racy) pop song - all fellow Quebecer Marie-Pierre Arthur meets Feist in an incredibly uptempo and catchy of choruses kind of way. 

A mention has to be made to the great production qualities that are apparent throughout the album - especially the vocal mixing. By the second track, "Jour de paye", you're starting to get an inkling of the shear breathless, effortless style and dynamic range of Marianne's voice - the vocals soaring over another light jazz-tinged slow-burner of a song. Meanwhile on the aforementioned "Les outardes", the resulting multi-dubbed vocal chorus offers favourable comparisons to those sweeping angelic harmonies that have become the Boulay sisters' trademark.

It's hard to believe that this polished and professional album is Marianne's debut offering. There's a maturity and assuredness far beyond her tender years on display here. This a serious contender for Album of the Year and more importantly should be in the running during next year's award season.

Listening to this album over and over again on a recent flight to Japan - originally in part to try and write this blog, as well as an attempt to unpick the various themes expertly woven together - I realised instead that I'd just let this album draw me in and envelop me in it's warming embrace.

In fact, I'd only managed to write just a couple of words...
"Simply stunning..."

Marianne Bel Website 
Marianne Bel Bandcamp page