Francis Cabrel - L' Essentiel 1977-2007
Record Label: Columbia Europe
Release Date: July 10, 2007
Listening to artists that sing in languages that differ from your own is often hit or miss. You can either appreciate the music for what it is, or sit on the other side of the fence and prefer that you understand every word the singer is saying. While we all have our preferences, oftentimes there will be an artist that surpasses all barriers and reminds us all that music is the universal language. Francis Cabrel is one of those artists.
Francis Cabrel is one of the best things that I took from my high school French class (anybody else exposed to Cabrel's songs to teach you the language?). Cabrel hails from France, and sings entirely in French, with a few occasional forays into Spanish. Often called the "French Bob Dylan," Cabrel was inspired at a very young age by Dylan to pick up a guitar and start writing songs. Flash forward 30+ years, and Cabrel has become one of France's premier folk singer-songwriters, with many of his songs becoming classics of French music. To date, he has released 12 studio albums and a myriad of live compilations.
With this introduction, we come to the review itself. To celebrate Cabrel's 30 year career, Columbia released a two disc, 37 song collection of his greatest hits spanning three decades. The collection contains everything a beginner would need to get into Cabrel's work, and it displays his wide musical range. Most of Cabrel's songs fall into the realm of folk, but he occasionally dishes out a bluesy number or an energetic country song. Cabrel mans the acoustic guitar, and the majority of his songs involve him painting lush environments with his extremely far-reaching and noticeable voice. Cabrel belts out high notes with ease and does not seem uncomfortable when restraining his voice for the slowest and mellowest numbers. Cabrel's vocal prowess is evident on standout tracks such as "C'est Ecrit" and "Je t'aimais, je t'aime, je t'aimerai" where he can be singing softly one moment and the next belting out words with enough passion to make you forget that you most likely have no idea what he's saying. One of my favorite tracks on the album is "Encore et encore," which is a very upbeat and fast song that has undoubtedly gotten French fans jumping up and down when he plays it.
In regards to lyrics, I sometimes haven't the slightest clue what the man is singing about, but I learned enough French to be able to piece together a good amount of it, and from what I know, Cabrel is a veritable poet with his metaphors and phrases. He writes mostly of love, but he has also written songs about a young girl's suicide ("C'etait l'hiver") and even a duet with Latin American singer Mercedes Sosa ("Vengo a ofrecer mi corazon"). Despite the fact that you may not be able to understand him verbatim, his voice is so strong and passionate that it's hard to imagine he's not singing about something impossibly beautiful. To back up his voice, Cabrel employs a myriad of different instruments. Alongside his acoustic guitar, Cabrel frequently uses horns, piano, tambourines, and even a children's choir(!) to get his point across.
While all of Cabrel's most recognizable tracks are here ("Petite Marie," Je L'aime a mourir," "Octobre") some of the tracks are definitely hit or miss and leave me wondering if they should have condensed a little more. Also, being a greatest hits album, it is lacking a bit of the flow and cohesiveness of a regular studio album. However, these are only minor gripes, and on the whole we have a brilliant retrospective of one of the pioneers of French music and something to look into if you want a different spin on your playlist. I fully understand that music in other languages is hard to get into, but I hope this review turns some of you on to him. 30 years into his career, Cabrel shows no signs of slowing down (he released a new studio album this year) and I sincerely hope he doesn't anytime soon.