“Sometimes You’re Lucky, Sometimes You’re Not: La Nouvelle Chanson Francaise 1997-2009”

Sometimes You’re Lucky, Sometimes You’re Not

Nouvelle Chanson

An Anthology of European Pop 1997-2009

The Liner Notes to a 6CD Set Collected by Randy Roark

La Nouvelle Chanson

Nouvelle Chanson (or Nouvelle Scene Francaise) describes a pop music movement beginning in France in the late Nineties, characterized by a return to the stylings and language of French chanson following World War II. It has been written that “if acid house had exploded in a fetid basement in Rue Hachette rather than the repressed and sweaty confines of Thatcher’s Britain, it might have sounded something like this.” It began (arguably) with the first release by Francoiz Breut in 1997, who was at the time a back-up singer for her French pop star boyfriend Dominique A. Her stark and literate CD drew its inspiration from Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour along with the ballads of Frank Sinatra, but twisted it with the sensibilities of late-60s avant-garde French musical artists like Serge Gainsbourg and George Brassens, and blended them with a sensibility honed in Francoiz’s teens when she crossed the Channel to hear bands like Nirvana and Mudhoney in London clubs, often sleeping in Victoria Station after missing the last train back to Paris. Through a friend’s record collection she worked her way backwards to Iggy Pop and the Velvet Underground, but had at her disposal all of the post-punk sensibilities of Radiohead and electronica.

There quickly followed a number of newly confident voices (mostly female) who were given the name Nouvelle Chanson Francois. Many of these singers had received formal training in opera, composition, or musical theatre, but their artistic inspiration comes as much from Dada and Surrealism, and their lyrics are often drawn from fairy tales, contemporary poetry, and magical realist literature. Their theatricality and use of personae often transcends the genres of pop, rock, and “anti-folk”—and some of their aesthetics have infiltrated French punk, dance music, and even rap.

As the movement spread to other European countries and eventually to England and Canada, “Francois” (and the insistence on singing in French) was gradually dropped from the movement’s name. 


Cynthia Alexander is an electric bassist, multi-instrumentalist, and singer born in the Philippines. She has been described as a cross between Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith. Her friends on MySpace include Sigur Ros, Bill Frissell, Bjork, Eberhard Weber, and Keith Jarrett.

Charles Aznavour is a French singer and songwriter born in Paris in 1924, the son of Armenian immigrants. His big break came when the singer Edith Piaf heard him sing in a café and arranged to take him with her on tour through France and the United States. He has written more than a thousand songs, complete musicals, made more than one hundred records, and has appeared in over sixty movies.

Chimene Badi was born in 1982 in Melun, France, a suburb of Paris, but she spent her childhood in the south-west of France, growing up in Villeneuve-sur-Lot. According to Wikipedia, “Chimène also made her mark at her school’s end-of-year shows, wowing the audience with her confident vocal performance. Teachers barely recognised Chimène who, when she was off stage, was a notoriously shy pupil, given to daydreaming and complexes about her appearance. Meanwhile, Chimène plugged away at her studies, going on to obtain a ‘BEP’ in agribusiness.

Brigitte Bardot was born in Paris in 1934, and was a model, dancer, film actress, and singer, and, after her retirement in 1973, has become known primarily as an animal rights activist. She starred with Jane Birkin in “Doan Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman,” and made several popular recordings in the 1960s and ‘70s with Serge Gainsbourg, including a version of “Je t’aime … moi non plus,” which she refused to allow him to release, which led to his re-recording the song with Jane Birkin in the version that became an international hit. One of her boyfriends—John Gilmore—said in the 1960s that “I felt a beautiful warmth with Bardot but found it difficult to discuss things in any depth whatsoever.” Her current husband, Bernard d’Ormal, is a former adviser of the far right Front National party,  and she has been fined five times in France for her public statements against immigrants, the “mixing of genes,” Muslims, and homosexuals, and in 2008 was fined 15,000 Euros for a letter she wrote to Nicolas Sarkozy, where she said that she was “fed up with being under the thumb of this population [of Muslims] which is destroying us, destroying our country and imposing its habits” on France. Bob Dylan dedicated the first song he ever wrote to Bardot, and mentions her in “I Shall Be Free.”

Amel Bent was born in Paris in 1985, and grew up in the French commune of La Courneuve with her Algerian Father and Algerian-Moroccan mother.

Benjamin Biolay was born in 1973 in Villefranche-sur-Saone, France, and is the brother of Coralie Clement (whose first CDs he produced), and ex-husband of Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni. Biolay also produced the first two CDs for Keren Ann, and has worked with Francoise Hardy.

Jane Birkin is an English model, singer, and film director who lives in France. Her father was a World War II espionage operative, and her mother was Judy Campbell, an actress in Noel Coward musicals. She appeared as one of the models in the 1966 film “Blowup.”  She starred in the Agatha Christie film “Death on the Nile” (1978) and won Female Artist of the Year in the 1992 for her album “Victoires de la Musique.” She has been married to both Serge Gainsbourg and John Barry, the man who scored many of the James Bond films. Hermes designed one of their most expensive and popular handbags—the Birkin bag—for her in 1984. She has collaborated with artists such as Feist, Beth Gibbons from Portishead, Bryan Ferry, Franz Ferdinand, Manu Chao, Francoise Hardy, the Magic Numbers, Beck, Rufus Wainwright, Sonny Landreth, the Soundtrack of Our Lives, and Johnny Marr from the Smiths.

Jacques Brel was a singer-songwriter, actor, and director born in Schaarbeek, Belgium in 1929. His songs have been covered by Judy Collins, David Bowie, Ray Charles, Dusty Springfield, The Dresden Dolls, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, and The Kingston Trio, and he performed with Maurice Chevalier and Michel Legrand. Edith Piaf wrote of him, “He goes to the limit of his strength because, through his singing, he expresses his reason for living and each line hits you in the face and leaves you dazed.” He starred in the musical “L’Homme de la Mancha” (“Man of La Mancha”) which he also translated into French and directed. He died in 1978 at the age of 49 and is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia, a few yards away from the painter Paul Gauguin.

Francoiz Breut was born in 1969 in Cherbourg, France, and is now living in Brussels, Belgium. In 1997, shortly after her boyfriend—French pop star Dominque A—asked her to sing on three of his songs, he wrote and produced her first CD (“Francoiz Breut”). Howie Gelb of Giant Sand has written an ode to her (“Letter to Francoiz”) and she has performed with Calexico.

Ane Brun was born in 1976 in Molde, Norway, and now lives in Stockholm, Sweden. After busking in Barcelona in her early twenties, Brun joined the Norwegian punk band Damsels in Distress. Her latest recordings are produced by Valgeir Sigurdsson, who has worked with artists as varied as Björk and Bonnie Prince Billy, and she’s recorded with Ron Sexsmith. In 2008, The LA Weekly wrote of her that: “Ane Brun may hail from Norway, but her gentle, introspective music holds a pan-Atlantic feel, connecting the dots between Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton, Kate Bush, Nick Drake and even Björk.” “Gillian” is about listening to the CD “Time: The Revelator” by Gillian Welch.

Carla Bruni (-Sarkozy) was born in 1967 in Turin, Italy, and is currently the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The child of a wealthy industrialist, her family moved to Paris in the 1970s to avoid threats from the Red Brigade, a Marxist-Leninist terrorist group active in Italy at the time. Her sister is actress and movie director Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. By the 1990s, Bruni was among the 20 highest-paid fashion models in the world. While modeling, Bruni dated Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, and former French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius. In 1993 a nude photograph of her sold at auction for $91,000. In 1997, Bruni quit the world of fashion to devote herself to music. One of her songs appears in the film “(500) Days of Summer.” On her second album—“No Promises”—she set poems by William Butler Yeats, Emily Dickinson, W.H. Auden, Dorothy Parker, Walter de la Mare, and Christina Rosetti to music. She has sung at Radio City Music Hall for Nelson Mandela’s 91st birthday and met with the Dalai Lama at a Buddhist temple in Languedoc in 2008. She is currently collaborating with Lenny Kravitz on her fourth album, has sung with Harry Connick, Jr., will be appearing on an upcoming David Bowie tribute CD, and has a part in the next Woody Allen film, to be released in 2010. Michelle Obama has recently enlisted to assist in Bruni’s UNAIDS project.

Jeanne Cherhal was born in 1978 in Nantes, France, and has appeared in two films. A philosophy student in college, she has performed in the French language version of “The Vagina Monologues.”

Coralie Clement was born in 1982 in Villefranche-sur-Saone, France, and has recorded with her brother, Benjamin Biolay. Her music has appeared in the films “Something’s Got to Give” and “L’Idole” with Leelee Sobieski. She was studying history at a university in Paris when she recorded the music presented here.

CocoRosie is a pop group of two sisters—Bianca “Coco” (born in Hawaii) and Sierra “Rosie” Casady (born in Iowa) of Native American and Syrian ancestry. The sisters formed a band after meeting in Paris for the first time in many years where Bianca was studying opera. Their first album “La maison de mon reve” was recorded in their bathroom in Paris. They have subsequently collaborated with Antony from Antony and the Johnsons, Devendra Banhart, the French rapper Spleen, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Royal Dramatic Theater of Sweden (where their song “Werewolf” is repeatedly sung by both Ophelia and Hamlet), and scored films in France and Germany. The cover art for their second CD—“Noah’s Ark”—which featured a drawing by Bianca of three unicorns having sex while one of them vomits—was selected by “The Guardian” and Pitchfork Media as one of the worst album covers of all time. They have been produced by Valgeir Sigurosson, Bjork’s longtime collaborator.

Pauline Croze was born in 1979 in Noisy-le-Sec, France. She was 20 years old at the time of these recordings.

Camille (Dalmais) was born in Paris, in 1978. Her CD “Le Fil” is a concept album based on the B-note drone, all of the music created solely through her voice and an occasional double-bass and keyboards. She studied ballet as a child, received her B.A. in literature, and is also an actress. She has released songs as varied as “Too Drunk to Fuck,” Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols,” and contributed “Le Festin” to the animated film “Ratatouille.”

Vincent Delerm was born in 1976 in Evreux, France, and is a composer, singer-songwriter, and composer.

 (Leslie) Feist was born in Canada in 1976 and is a sometime member of the rock band Broken Social Scene, as well as a solo performer. At the age of twelve, she performed as one of 1000 dancers in the opening ceremonies of the Calgary Winter Olympics, which is the inspiration for her song “1234.” She has toured with her roommate Peaches, sung with Jane Birkin, Wilco, Grizzly Bear, and Beck, taught children how to sing on “Sesame Street,” been photographed by Annie Leibovitz for “Vanity Fair,” and has been interviewed by Stephen Colbert. She now lives in Paris and New York.

Charlotte Gainsbourg was born in 1971 and is the daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. Her uncle is screenwriter Andrew Birkin, who directed her in the film “The Cement Garden.” She appeared as Claire in the Todd Haynes’ film “I’m Not There,” and sang “Just Like a Woman” on the film’s soundtrack. In 2002, she was featured on the Madonna album “Music,” on the track “What It Feels Like for a Girl,” including her speech from “The Cement Garden,” which inspired the song. In 2009, she won the award for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her performance in the film “Antichrist.” Her recent album “IRM”—referring to the MRIs she received after a cerebral hemorrhage in 2008—was produced by Beck.

Serge Gainsbourg: Serge Gainsbourg was a French singer-songwriter, actor, and director. Born of Russian-Jewish parents who fled to France during the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, he later had to wear a yellow star during the German occupation of France. An unsuccessful painter, by the age of 30 he earned his living as a piano player in bars. In mid-1968, Gainsbourg fell in love with English singer and actress Jane Birkin. Birkin remembers the beginning of her affair with Gainsbourg: he took her to a nightclub, then to a transvestite club, and afterwards to the Hilton Hotel, where he passed out in a drunken stupor. Gainsbourg married Birkin when she was 21 and he was 40. In 1969, he released “Je t’aime … moi non plus” which featured a recording of Birkin having an orgasm. At the time, the Vatican made a public statement citing the song as offensive. In 1978, he recorded a reggae version of the French national anthem in Jamaica with Robbie Shakespeare, Sly Dunbar, and Rita Marley, which earned him death threats from right-wing veterans. After his death, French President Francois Mitterand said of him, “He was our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire…. He elevated song to the level of art.”

Anja Garbarek was born in 1970 in Oslo, Norway, the daughter of saxophonist Jan Garbarek. A drama student, she was discovered in a stage musical. Her first CD features contributions from Mark Hollis of Talk Talk and Robert Wyatt.

Imogen Heap: Born in 1977 in London, Heap has worked with artists as diverse as Brian Eno, Bon Jovi, Jeff Beck, and the hip-hop band Urban Species. A classically trained musician, she taught herself modern electric composition on an Atari computer, has performed at the Coachella Festival and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” and has been nominated for two Grammy Awards.

Kery James was born in West Indies to Haitian parents, and grew up in Orly, France. The media has labeled him “the rapper repented through Islam.” He has performed with the Nubians and Salif Keita and Charles Aznavour.

Sandrine Kiberlain was born in 1968 into a family of Polish Jews in France, and is primarily a stage actress. In 1995, she received the Prix Romy Schneider for her work in film.

L5: A French all-woman pop group. “Maniac” is a song from the film “Flashdance.”

Amelie Les-Crayons: was born in Lyons, France.

Les Fatals Picards is a satiric French rock/punk band, founded in 1996. The name of their band means “the fatal [men] from Picardy.”

Emily Loizeau was born in 1975 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris. She is the grand-daughter of the actress Peggy Ashcroft. A student of classical music, she has arranged music for the theater. Her influences include Tom Waits, Nina Simone, and Randy Newman. “The Dancer” is a cover of a P.J. Harvey song. “Tell Me That You Don’t Cry’ is a duet with Willie Nelson, and she sings “London Town” with Andrew Bird.

Claudine Longet was born in Paris France in 1942 and was a popular singer, actress, and dancer, until 1977, when she went into seclusion following her conviction for misdemeanor negligent homicide in connection with the shooting death of her boyfriend at the time, the former Olympic skier Spider Sabich in Aspen, Colorado. She has never performed since.

Myrtille is a French pop singer who apparently recorded a single CD in 2005.

Yael Naim is a Franco-Israeli born to Sephardi Jewish French-Tunisian parents in 1978. She served in the Israel Defense Force and was a stage actress before she recorded her first CD, with vocals in Hebrew, French, and English. One of the selections here features a duet with Damian Rice.

Nouvelle Vague: Their name translates as “bossa nova” in Portuguese (they are from Brazil) and as “new wave” in France. They update ’80s new wave and punk singles with a Brazilian pop twist, such as “God Save the Queen” and “Ca Plane Pour Moi.” One of their members is from Denver, Colorado, and the band will be appearing at the Bluebird Theater in Denver on February 1st, 2010. “The American” is the cover of a Simples Minds song, and “The Guns of Brixton” is a cover of a song by the Clash.

Adrienne Pauly is a French actress and pop-rock singer, born in Clamart, France in 1977. She joined the Conservatoire National Supeirieur d’Art Dramatique in 1996, where she studied drama, and acted in films until 2002, when she discovered the piano.

Laura Pausini: Born 1974 in Solarolo, Italy, Pausini released her first recording at the age of thirteen. She records in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English. In 1999, Pavorotti invited her to his annual “Pavarotti and Friends” concert and she has also performed with Andrea Bocelli. Today (January 1, 2010) she announced that she will take a two-year pause in her career to become a mother.

Madeleine Peyroux is an American jazz singer, songwriter, and guitarist who was born in Athens, Georgia in 1974, and moved with her mother to Paris at the age of thirteen. She began singing at the age of fifteen as a street musician in the Latin Quarter in Paris. Her first LP (released by Atlantic Records in 1996), featured covers of Edith Piaf’s signature song “La Vie en Rose,” as well as Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight,” and two Bessie Smith covers. Following its release, she disappeared in order to return to life as an anonymous street performer in Paris. When she was scheduled to record again, she was diagnosed with a problem with her vocal cords. She returned to public performances in 2002, and released her second album in 2004, covering Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Hank Williams. The only original track on the album was “Don’t Wait Too Long.”

Edith Piaf was born in Paris in 1915 as Edith Giovanna Gassion in an immigrant section of Paris. Some stories have her literally being born on the street. Her father was a Moroccan street musician and her mother was French-Italian. Edith was abandoned by her parents when she was still a newborn and raised by her grandmother until she was one year old, when her father brought her to his mother’s brothel in Normandy, where she was raised by the prostitutes there. Edith was blind from the ages of three to seven (due to keratitis) until the prostitutes saved enough money to send her on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Therese, where she regained her sight. When she was 14, she began performing on the streets with her father. When she was 17 she had her only child, which she more or less abandoned with her boyfriend in order to continue to travel and sing. This daughter later died at age two of meningitis. In 1935, she gave her first public performance in a café, where she was given the name La Mome Piaf–“The Little Sparrow”—and discovered by Maurice Chevalier. When the café owner was murdered a year later by mob members associated with Piaf, she was interrogated but eventually released. In 1940, she appeared onstage in a play by Jean Cocteau, and discovered Yves Montand, who became her lover before they broke off their relationship when he became nearly as famous as she. During the war she performed for German troops during the occupation and was considered a traitor, but she claimed she was really working for the Resistance. In 1951 she was injured in a car accident along with Charles Aznavour and became addicted to morphine and alcohol. She appeared on the Ed Sullivan show eight times, and twice at Carnegie Hall. She died in 1963 of liver cancer, and her funeral was attended by over 100,000 fans.

Olivia Ruiz was born in 1980 in France. Her records incorporate Hispanic rock, punk, folk, “dark caberet” and even rap (with Buck 65). Her partner is the lead singer for the French heavy metal band Dionysos. “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” is a Cole Porter song made famous by Marilyn Monroe.

Sia (Furler) was born 1975 in Adelaide, Australia, and first performed professionally as part of the acid jazz band Crisp. Her first dance hit sampled Prokofiev’s “Dance of the Knights.” She has collaborated with Beck (“The Bully”), and is currently writing songs with Christina Aguilera for Aguilera’s Spring 2010 release.

Emilie Simon is an electronic composer born in 1978 in Montpellier, France. Her recordings of sounds related to coldness such as the sounds of smashing ice and footsteps in the snow led to her scoring the soundtrack for the French language version of “March of the Penguins,” although a less-challenging score was used for the English-language release. She has recorded CDs on the sounds of plants and has performed with the Synfonietta de Belfort and the Lyon percussion group. “Come As You Are” is a cover of a Nirvana song. “Femme Fatale” is a cover of a Velvet Underground song.

Anna Ternheim was born in Stockholm Sweden in 1978. Four of the songs here are from the Frank Sinatra songbook. “China Girl” is a cover of an Iggy Pop song. It was discovering Anna’s performance of “To Be Gone” that led to my interest in this movement and this collection. Ironically, “To Be Gone” didn’t make the final cut.

Emiliana Torrini was born in Iceland, 1977, of an Italian father and Icelandic mother. Trained as an opera singer from an early age, she is also a member of the Icelandic rock band GusGus, has sung with Thievery Corporation and Paul Oakenfold, sings “Gollum’s Song” during the end credits of “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” and has co-written songs for Kylie Minogue. “Next Time Around” is the cover of a Sandy Denny song.

Laurent Voulzy was born in 1948 in Paris, France, and has had a long career as a French pop star as well as recording with the Corrs.

Keren Ann (Zeidel) was born in 1974, and is descended from Russian Jews on her father’s side and Indo (Javanese and Dutch) on her mother’s. Raised in Israel and Netherlands, she moved to France at the age of eleven. She lives in Paris, Manhattan, and Israel, and during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War, she performed for evacuees in shelters in the North.

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