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The French Arizona Dream

Chanson meets Americana


Paris 

08/06/2009 - 

An increasing number of French musicians have been heading out to play in Tucson, Arizona - and a number of them, including French 'chanteuse' Marianne Dissard, have ended up staying for good! RFI Musique investigates whether these artists are attracted by the idea of America or Americana.



Tucson, the second biggest town in Arizona, has become a sort of underground Mecca for arty French rockers over the years. And L’Entredeux, the debut album by French singer Marianne Dissard, confirms that the Arizona Dream still exerts a powerful pull on the Gallic mindset. In the video to Dissard's Les Draps sourds, guest stars Katerine, Dominique A and a number of other well-known French musicians pile into a Tucson hotel room for an impromptu party-cum-jam.


Marianne Dissard has become a central figure in Tucson's desert music community. She arrived in Phoenix at the age of 16, after her father got transferred to the capital, Arizona, and the young French girl who had grown up listening to Brel and Brassens soon began delving into local culture. After completing a degree in film studies in Los Angeles, Marianne began shooting her own short films and documentaries. She met the band Giant Sand and was so impressed by what she heard that she began shooting a documentary on them called "Drunken Bees." In 1994, Marianne headed out to the band's home town, Tucson - and she has been there ever since! It was Marianne who brought in two French musicians: Naïm Amor and Thomas Belhom (both from an experimental rock background) to provide additional music for the film. And the whole crew ended up getting together in Tucson, playing with Giant Sand and other local music dignitaries including Joey Burns and John Convertino, the founding members of Calexico.

Americana


Calexico were one of the prime movers and shakers in the Americana movement - an amalgam of roots music, country, rock and folk played with typical "hipster" detachment that began to take off in the States in the 1990s. And they put Tucson firmly on the music map. The town, located right on the edge of the desert and just over the border from Mexico, produces its own atypical sound, a sort of American rock fuelled by Mariachi brass crossed with folk music played with "40° in the shade" torpor. Together with seminal "made in Tucson" albums by Calexico, OP8, Howe Gelb and Giant Sand, French music fans got to discover the Tucson phenomenon via records by Amor-Belhom Duo and the album ABBC (Amor, Belhom, Burns & Convertino), the first official releases by Arizona's French community.

Calexico soon became a reference for French artists such as Jean-Louis Murat who recruited the band to appear on his 1999 album Mustango (which included a track called Calexico) and 'nouvelle chanson' star Françoiz Breut who invited Joey Burns to record with her. Federico Pellegrini and Helena Noguerra also headed out to Tucson together to record their 2006 album Bang! as the duo Dillinger Girl.

Mini-festival


In August 2008, Nantes-based band Les French Cowboys, Françoiz Breut, Katerine and Dominique A all headed out to Tucson for a mini-French music festival (during which Dissard's afore-mentioned music video got shot). The festival marked the coming together of two Americas: the dream that exists in musicians' heads and the country that exists in reality. And for once these two Americas co-existed side by side in Tucson, an American town built on a human dimension where every glimpse of the landscape looks like a movie shot. Here, amidst arid red rocks and ancient cacti, musicians came together to play a haunting mix of French rock, chanson and Americana infused with melancholy, simplicity and humanity.


Marianne Dissard, Tucson belle
L’Entredeux

Marianne Dissard's debut album, L’Entredeux, is a musical 'tour de force', built on a series of poignant ballads woven out of a subtle mix of Americana and French chanson. On her MySpace page, the Tucson-based singer-songwriter describes her debut full-length offering as something "between Chanson and Americana, Southwestern noir and acoustic French pop." And L’Entredeux certainly suits its title (which means "in between" in French). This is an album that consistently moves between different musical styles, moods and aesthetics that have never been assimilated before.

The making of Ms. Dissard's album, released in France in the winter of 2008, appears to have taken place in some sort of mental "in between." The singer originally penned her song lyrics in a Tucson hotel room back in 2004 as her marriage to French musician Naïm Amor was falling apart. Marianne went into the studio at the beginning of 2006 to work with Calexico frontman Joey Burns who wrote nine melodies on the album (music for the other three tracks having been composed by her former partner, Amor).

L'Entredeux manages to be both warm and generous, arid and dry, tense, edgy but consistently cool. Calexico's laidback style of rock'n'folk is counterbalanced by Dissard's husky chanson vocals tinged throughout with a mournful lilt and a sort of lukewarm detachment. Dissard's distinctive vocal timbre and phrasing recall Brigitte Fontaine (at her calmest), Françoise Hardy (at her most sensual) and Jeanne Moreau (when she is not playing the 'femme fatale.') Meanwhile, the Tucson belle's raw, painful songwriting paints a moving portrait of a couple drifting apart and a woman caught between "in" and "out" of love.

Marianne Dissard L’Entredeux (Discograph) 2008

 Listen to an extract from Les Draps sourds

 

Bertrand  Dicale

Translation : Julie  Street