By Carl Hanni
Digging (in) France
So, I found myself scouting
records in Nantes, France. Nantes
is a beautiful, old-new city that also happens to be home to a band (French
Cowboy), a DJ (French Tourist) and a label (Havalina Records) that have
numerous connections to my home, Tucson,
AZ. The genesis of that
connection is a pretty interesting story, but not really relevant to today’s
topic of record digging in France…
France is not a cheap place to record shop in, new or used,
but nonetheless I managed to come away with a short stack of treasures, 7 and
12 inch both. Here are some of the highlights, all of them French, all on
Serge Gainsbourg, Aux
Armes et Caetera. When urged to buy national hero Serge Gainsbourg’s
reggae album my first reaction was skepticism, but Aux Armes et Caetera is absurdly good. Recorded in Jamaica
(thank god) in 1979 with Sly & Robbie, the I-Threes and other roots reggae
aces, Aux Armes… is smooth, sexy and completely believable, which is
more than I can say for most any other white-guy-in-Jamaica record I can think
of. The French’ unceasing attachment to Serge Gainsbourg makes me strangely
Serge Gainsbourg, Anna soundtrack. Starring Anna Karina and Jean-Claude Brialy;
Gainsbourg wrote the music and is also one of the stars, along with Marianne
Faithful. This is a fabulous collection of cinematic French pop, circa swinging
1967. Buy it if you can find it.
Ben & The Platano Group,
Paris Soul. Bought on the insistence of French Tourist, Paris Soul turns out to be a DJ’s dream find. First released in 1972, Ben & The
Plantano Group mix up French funk, Latin Jazz and more, sometimes sounding like
French version of vintage, Hammond
organ driven El Chicano. Understandably highly sought after by collectors and
DJs, I found a fine re-release from the original label, Barclay Records.
Starshooter: the first
release (1978) from this French punk rock band tears it up and down. Working
out of Lyon, they managed a huge European hit
in 1978 with “Get Baque” before running into some legal trouble with it.
Previously unknown to me, now I’m all over it.
Francoise Hardy: the
fifth record, from 1965, by the popular French chanteuse with the dreamy voice
and sexy bangs. Includes a cover of “When I Get Through with You” (“Quel
Mal Y A-T-Il A Ca”) first recorded by Patsy Cline in 1962 and the hit
one courtesy of French Tourist, who gifted it my way. I’m still getting a grip
on this one from 1972. Intense singer/songwriter/rock/pop. He swears it’s a
masterpiece. I’m feeling the language barrier on this one.
Francois Rabbath, The
Sound of a Bass. The most unexpected and off the wall of all my finds.
Wildly inventive double-bass and drums jazz excursions from a Syrian-born,
Paris-bassed (sorry!) player, originally released in 1963. With just his own
bass and drummer Armand Molinetti, Rabbath concocts a head-altering series of
compositions/themes, with descriptions that include “Ironical jazz in the vein
of present day life” (“Creasy Course”), “Magic transposition of the ambiguity
of every day life” (“Kobolds”) and my favorite, “Malicious dissonances over
five octaves” (“Basses en Fugue”). The latter has to be heard to be believed;
that’s a bass making all those eerie, other-worldy sounds, apparently.
Whizz Vol. 2, Psychodrama
Francias 1966-70. Note: that’s Psychodrama, not Psychedelic. Not
knowing what they are singing about, I’m left to infer/make up what these
fifteen tracks of demented, whacked French psychodrama might be all about.
Rock, psych, pop, cinematic bits and the pleasingly unclassifiable all stand
and deliver…something. The music is fabulous; the prevailing feeling is one
of giddy hysteria. Gifted by Benjamin in Paris.
I also scored choice ones by Bohannon, Santa Esmeralda and David Murray and a fabulous
compilation of psychedelic funk from around the world called Psych Funk
101. On seven inch, I picked up some choice jazz singles by Art
Blakey (“Moanin’ pts. 1 and 2”) and Jimmy Smith (“When the Saints
Go Marching in” b/w “Prayer Meetin'”), hip hop by Phase II, Technotronic,
Tidee-T (“Sequential Groove”) and Joe Bataan (“Rap-O Clap-O”), Timmy
Thomas‘ classic “Why Can’t We Live Together” (w/the great “Funky Me” on the
flip) + the 80s dance classic “Bustin’ Out” by Material w/Nona Hendryx and two vintage Manu Dibango singles, “Soul Makossa” and “Super Kumba.”
A real find was a three song single by the recently deceased Lizzy Mercer
Descloux, including “Fog Horn Blues” w/Chet Baker on horn. Score!
Thanks for scouting help to
Laurent Marescal, Julia Butault, French Tourist, Anthony at Melomane Records
and that guy in the market in Nantes
who cut me a deal on all the vinyl and singles. Also thanks for all the CDs
that came my way, especially the Serge Gainsbourg 3-fer from Laurent.
You can leave comments below or e-mail them to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Carl Hanni is a music writer, music publicist, disc jockey, book hound
and vinyl archivist living in Tucson, AZ. He hosts an occasional concert and
film series at The Screening Room in downtown Tucson, “The B-Side”
program on KXCI (Tuesday nights midnight – 2 a.m.) and spins records wherever
and whenever he can. He currently writes for Blurt, Tucson Weekly, and
(occasionally) Goldmine and Signal To Noise.