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I have been listening to French music for the past ten years, and in doing so have seen new singers come and go, have compared styles, and none has impressed me as much as that produced in the new album of Raphael. Having heard the lead song of the album entitled Caravane, I wanted to know more about the artist, but also about the other songs, and whose influence had rubbed off on this young and relatively unheard of singer.
Raphael Haroche is a little of an enigma in the French music business, and has a style that I would describe as almost gypsy in its' seeming freedom of expression and melody, and at the tender age of 29, is an accomplished musician, with a wealth of instrumental experience behind him, playing piano, saxophone and guitar. His earlier influences by singers such as Bowie, Dylan, Jacques Brel, and Noir Desir don't actually show that much in this album, although his earlier work shows the development of his musical career so far, climaxing with his latest offering. What you see through the progression of the three albums produced by this artist is that of a singer trying to find that style that is his own, and here is where many French artists fail, in that their music is too akin to American style music, in an effort for recognition. Here, the music of Raphael has its' own style that has evolved, rather than being an imitation of anyone, and as the young singer reached his fifth year as an artist with two albums selling well, what he achieved with Caravane was beyond his own expectations, as he was awarded Best Male Singer
I am driven to write this review by a desire to spread the news of a young French singer who merits attention, even by those who do not speak the French language. The reason for my enthusiasm is that sometimes music itself speaks volumes and the richness of this album astounded me. Raphael began his musical career in a similar manner to other French singers, influenced by others (and in his case David Bowie), though not knowing the direction in which he was going. All too often French artists that are new to the scene do this, and amongst contenders for popularity, I must have heard more would be Rock and Rollers than I deserved to, and young female singers, the ilk of whom could be compared to the Maria Carey wobbly voice syndrome.
For me, having been accustomed to disappointing imitations performed by young French artists, this music actually stopped me in my tracks, made me listen and what I found was amazing. Coming out of the period of self appraisal, and self seeking, Raphael took himself in another direction on this album and what he achieved was a wonderful mixture of satire and musical extravaganza that merited the awards of Best Male Artist, Best Song (being the Title track Caravane), and best album in the highly competitive Victoires de la Musique in Paris.
His voice and the ambiance of his music could be likened to that of several other artists, and here the naivety of singers like Donovan from the sixties come to mind with the simplicity of the melodies, although more recently a favourable comparison in musical style would have to be with artists such as James Blunt, only in a less pathetic and self seeking vain. Having had a good classical education in music and also having achieved the ability to play three instruments (piano, saxophone and guitar), Raphael seems to have found the kind of balance within his new work that few do.
He is known in France as the Poet in Trainers, and certainly the words of songs like Caravane, Et Dans Cent Cinquante Ans and La Ballade du Pauve are so well sung that you are left with the impression of what I consider classical music of our time, in that the pieces are timeless. Caravane which is the song that won the Best Song Award is an exciting and enticing piece of music that starts with humble mandolin tremolo background and heats up to excitement and full blown orchestra, that takes the listener on a journey such as the discovery of youth, freedom of expression and sincerity, and really is a song that will appeal to all ages, upbeat and totally optimistic.
Marc Garson and Carlos Alamar, musicians that have played with Bowie himself give the backing credence and substance, although it is indeed the voice of the lad next door who doesn't seem to have forgotten his roots that charms the listener and enchants the ear. The guy is good, and although some of the tracks seem weaker than others, like Les Petits Bateaux which seems almost to struggle to keep up with the words, the overall impression that the album leaves me with is one of exceptional value, bearing in mind that the stronger tracks more than make up for shortcoming in the waker ones.
Ne Partons Pas Fache is a moral tale about never leaving someone whilst you are angry and again, instead of falling into the trap that James Blunt fell into of making each song sound sad and almost inflicting upon the listener, the songs are upbeat in the best possible way. Et Dans 150 Ans is one of my favourite tracks, and here the voice matters more than the backing. It's a ballad in the true sense of the word explaining how all the heartbreak and loss, first grey hairs and wrinkles will all disappear into insignificance in 150 years. It is simply sung and a sincere and happy song and one that really does charm you towards this singer. Inspired by a poem by Francois Villon.
On a sadder note perhaps, Chanson pour Patrick Dewaere, is a sad tribute to a French Actor who was before the time of the singer, and with whom he would have liked to have worked, and here the rawness of the voice, coupled with sincerity really does show the naivety and honesty of the artist who sincerely sings from the heart. La Route de Nuit is a seductive song and here typified by the French atmospheric background music, which to me is classic French music. Raphael's ability to convey the art of ballad is astounding and when I say that his authenticity as a sincere person stands out, I suppose the manner in which I would explain that is that his voice is natural and unique, though does make you think of other great artists without imitating. In La Route de Nuit there is even a vague likeness to early Leonard Cohen, though of course the depth of his voice is different and it is more the atmosphere of the song that portrays visions of songs from another era, though each performed in a manner that appeals to all ages.
Schengen is a strange mixture of upbeat music that works its way through rhythms and into skiffle music, reminiscent of early sixties fun music, and would certainly appeal to older listeners.
Throughout the album, we jump from emotion to emotion, from sadness to optimism and each song nicely balances out the CD as a whole. Peut-être a-t-il rêvé ? comes into its' own and here the listener is in for a delight of singer and piano that rises into a crescendo of celebration in a subtle and extremely likeable manner. Following this, La Ballade du Pauve tells a story of someone living in the streets and the emotions that come out in the atmosphere of the music are mellow and catchy for anyone, and it's an easy song to sing along to in the chorus area, sung again to a piano background.
What I feel that Raphael achieved with his final track, which is in fact instrumental featuring electric guitar is a good rounding off of the album in that you feel the album has gone full circle and the curtain is coming down on the experience you have played a part in. What is interesting here is that in searches when I bought this CD, every search said that those that bought this CD also bought James Blunt, but here, I would say that Raphael has the edge, in that he has not fallen into the trap of being overplayed on commercial radio, and still remains fresh enough for people to discover and enjoy, rather than tire of due to incessant plugging. I enjoyed Back to Bedlam although not as much as this album, and feel it merits taking seriously.
Track Listing for those who feel it important.
2.Ne Partons Pas Faches
3.C'est Bon Aujourd'Hui
4.Chanson pour Patrick Dewaere
5.Et dans 150 ans
6.Les Petits Bateaux
7.La Route de Nuit
9.Peut-être a-t-il rêvé ?
10.La Ballade du Pauve
Emi; ASIN : B0007RV9UQ
8.50 GBP or available second hand on Aamazon.
Enjoy, I did.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Ne Partons Pas Fâchés
3 C'est Bon Aujourd'hui
4 Chanson pour Patrick Dewaere
5 Et dans 150 Ans
6 Petits Bateaux
7 Route de Nuit
9 Peut-Etre A-T-Il Rêvé?
10 Ballade du Pauvre