595

Bad Reputation Live At Barbes

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
Bad Reputation
Barbes
Brooklyn, NY
August 26, 2010

Singer and songwriter Pierre de Gaillande's group Bad Reputation played a humorous and musically elevating two-set gig at Brooklyn's famous Barbes, the tiny venue with the enormous selection of music. Bad Reputation plays the songs of French poet/singer George Brassens (1921-1981) in English, with translations by de Gaillande.

Brassens is famous in France, with this generation being as familiar with his music as the last. His lyrics, provocative and poetic, make references to seventeenth century french poetry while calling attention to social truths. The songs were written with the lyrics first, yet the music to which Brassens dovetailed the words is also extremely catchy, and in its "world" melody-played-on-guitar style, must have influenced the Beatles as composers as well as lyricists. The most obvious broad comparison is to Bob Dylan: Brassens was Dylan even before Dylan was a teenager, fusing words of genius with the folk-chord like tunes. The music is, however, more sweeping and melodically colorful than Dylan's.

For a final twist, to push the message over the top, Brassens added abundant profanity. Hence, the "bad reputation!" De Gaillande's translations, and the band recording an album entitled Bad Reputation (Barbes Records, 2010), open up this treasure chest of art that is Brassens to English speakers.

Brassens often performed solo with his guitar, or with a bassist and sometimes a second guitar. De Gaillande has added clarinet, charango and other instruments to the music, to present a wholly appropriate Gallic ensemble. Bad Reputation's sound is similar to Paul McCartney's "Drink To Me (Picasso's Last Words)," a French pastiche song from Band On The Run (Columbia, 1974). Brassens' first decade of writing was at the time Sidney Bechet was living in France (Bechet died there in 1959), and a clarinet suits very well the "Petite Fleur" style tunes (for example "I Made Myself Small").

De Gaillande's father is French, a literature professor living in Los Angeles. It was he who turned de Gaillande on to the idea of translating a Brassens poem into English, and this led in turn to the project of translating Brassens' songs—very little of the poet has been sung in English before, though there are versions of his songs in other languages. As a Franco-American (his mother is American), and coming from an indie/folk rock background, de Gaillande was well placed to fill the gap. Despite problems of fitting syllables to sounds where there may not be an available syllable in English, and internal rhymes, de Gaillande has succeeded in creating excellent translations. Virtually every Brassens song is a masterpiece, an in-your-face equivalent to a rich and descriptive painting, yet with delicate imagery: Bad Reputation, with their singer's loquacious renderings, do not lose this picture.

The album Bad Reputation was released in June, 2010, and the brilliance and humor of the songs in English were not long in revealing themselves to the crowd at Barbes. With David Spinley on clarinet, Quentin Jennings on flute, charango and xylophone, and Christian Bongers on bass, de Gaillande launched into the oeuvre of Brassens, and an education was about to begin.

Beneath the Hotel D'Orsay sign that is always above the red curtain behind the stage, De Gaillande played classics such as "Poor Martin," the story of an agricultural worker resigned to his life, and the Lennon-esque and elegant masterpiece "Penelope." There were also the important and seemingly ever-poignant "To Die For Your Ideas" ["If we hurry up we might die for an idea that is outdated tomorrow," as de Gaillande described the meaning of the song], the picturesque "The Princess And The Troubadour," the humorous comments on (some) married women "Ninety-Five Percent," the cynical "Public Benches," and the very melodically McCartney-esque "Absolutely Nothing."

"The Princess And The Troubadour" is notable for a line typical of Brassens: "These ruins would never be a landmark..." yet they hide a history of an exotic underworld that never slept, once... and so the story is told. Brassens is said to have considered himself a medieval troubadour.

Spinley on clarinet often played an introduction for each song, then looked closely after the root note while De Gaillande sang the witty words. Jennings on charango or xylophone played similarly, keeping away from the melody as much as possible for contrast.

De Gaillande introduced the crowd to the chord and key of B minor, as most of Brassens' songs are in that key. "You're going to get used to B minor," said De Gaillande.

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Bob James Trio with Randy Brecker at the Blue Note Live Reviews Bob James Trio with Randy Brecker at the Blue Note
by Tyran Grillo
Published: August 21, 2017
Read The Songs of Scott Walker (1967-70) at Royal Albert Hall Live Reviews The Songs of Scott Walker (1967-70) at Royal Albert Hall
by John Eyles
Published: August 19, 2017
Read Bryan Ferry at the Paramount Theater Live Reviews Bryan Ferry at the Paramount Theater
by Geoff Anderson
Published: August 19, 2017
Read Newport Jazz Festival 2017 Live Reviews Newport Jazz Festival 2017
by Timothy J. O'Keefe
Published: August 18, 2017
Read FORQ at The World Cafe Live Live Reviews FORQ at The World Cafe Live
by Mike Jacobs
Published: August 18, 2017
Read "Alfa Jazz Fest 2017" Live Reviews Alfa Jazz Fest 2017
by Thomas Conrad
Published: July 11, 2017
Read "Earl Thomas At Biscuits & Blues" Live Reviews Earl Thomas At Biscuits & Blues
by Walter Atkins
Published: July 22, 2017
Read "12 Points Festival 2017" Live Reviews 12 Points Festival 2017
by Henning Bolte
Published: August 6, 2017
Read "Suoni Per Il Popolo 2017" Live Reviews Suoni Per Il Popolo 2017
by Mike Chamberlain
Published: June 28, 2017
Read "Teresa Salgueiro at the Bitola World Music Festival" Live Reviews Teresa Salgueiro at the Bitola World Music Festival
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: November 9, 2016

Sponsor: JANA PROJECT | LEARN MORE  

Support our sponsor

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.