Bénabar: Le Début de la Suite

Gavroche, Eleanor Rigby, Lili Marlene—evocative characters of literature and song are often everyday people in uncommon circumstances or described in illuminating context. When it comes to finely detailed portraits and scenes, the French singer-songwriter Bénabar (Bruno Nicolini) leverages his modest start—he played more than 300 bar concerts before he met his first record … More Bénabar: Le Début de la Suite

Teacher Jekyll: Ondas

It’s easy to exaggerate a kindred connection between two people from the same city, especially if they were born 150 years apart. But consider: Jules Verne, who grew up in Nantes, certainly knew that nature can send a wave thousands of miles across the sea before it breaks on a shoreline. And Verne’s modern-day townsman, producer-musician-DJ Olivier Corre, knows that human imagination can create waves that bounce back and forth … More Teacher Jekyll: Ondas

Lycinaïs Jean

She has the look of today’s youth—pierced, tattooed, androgynous—and the soul of romantic poets through the ages. She blends her music but refuses to blend herself, or calibrate her career arc according to market forces. And therein may rest the spark of the singer-songwriter’s prodigious talent. On her debut eponymous album, Lycinaïs Jean (“Jean” pronounced as in Billie Jean), with roots in Guadeloupe and Martinique, now living in Paris … More Lycinaïs Jean

Bonsoir, Catin: L’aurore

The five women and one man of Bonsoir, Catin do superbly everything you’d expect of a Cajun band, and they are always tossing something new into the gumbo. They set any feet within hollering distance two-stepping and waltzing to their vivacious tunes. They spin evocative stories of desire and heartbreak with a feminist edge. They revere tradition but also build on it—of the 13 tracks on L’aurore (Aurora), 10 are new, written by band members … More Bonsoir, Catin: L’aurore

Florent Nouvel: Le Nouvel Album

Florent Nouvel has a child’s sense of wonder and a director’s flair for composition. He simultaneously reveals and fabricates—his Facebook bio describes him as “le plus grand chanteur” of France (6 feet, 6 inches, or 1.99m)—and in fabricating illustrates larger truths with fine details. He writes catchy French chanson melodies, with deft touches of swing, bossa nova or jitterbug rock, that animate … More Florent Nouvel: Le Nouvel Album

2Frères: La Route

You can’t take the country out of the boy. And with 2Frères—Erik and Sonny Caouette—you can’t really take the boys out the country, either. When the retro folk-rockers dreamed big, they moved from Chapais, population 1,600 and 700 kilometers north of Montreal, to Cowansville, population 12,000 and 90 kilometers east of Québec’s culture capital. So far and no farther. Unpretentious family guys, they conquered the airwaves (with invaluable input … More 2Frères: La Route

Vaiteani

A Google search of literature featuring Tahiti turns up novels by 46 authors, only one of whom is Tahitian: Most of what the world knows about the fabled island is filtered through foreign eyes. The singer-songwriter Vaiteani Teaniniuraitemoana acknowledges that some stereotypes of her home island are positive, but she sees all simplified images as reference points to be checked against experience. A good starting place is her eponymous debut … More Vaiteani

Eskelina: La verticale

There’s a vein of Pygmalion to Eskelina Svanstein’s career in French chanson—just substitute divergent nationalities for social classes and assign more harmony to the goal of student and teachers. The story opens with a Swedish girl singing on the street in a French town. She hands a demo of her music to a renowned composer (Christophe Bastien); he eventually calls, and enlists a lyricist (Florent Vintrigner); the three rendezvous, composer and poet begin sculpting … More Eskelina: La verticale

Moh! Kouyaté: Fé Toki

Unlike Robert Frost, obliged to choose between diverging roads in a yellow wood, the singer-songwriter Moh! Kouyaté was able to take two routes at once. On his geographic journey he retraced the course of the blues from the Niger River, in his native Guinea, to the Mississippi Delta. On his concurrent artistic voyage he followed the sound waves to the confluence of blues, jazz and classic rock, where he found the energy source for his music … More Moh! Kouyaté: Fé Toki

Idir: Ici et Ailleurs

How many goals can one album achieve? Idir, the soft but steadfast voice of Berber/Kabyle culture, may not have posed that question when he conceived Ici et Ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere), but a partial list would include putting his native language—which has long struggled for official status in Algeria—on a bigger stage; expressing his love for the French soundtrack of his 40-year exile; and, not least, adding a new chapter to Charles Aznavour’s storied career … More Idir: Ici et Ailleurs