Fraise Vanille

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Helena Noguerra possesses the kind of voice that draws you into her songs, wrapping you in warmth and caressing you with a soft touch. Her previous two albums under her own name (and with Philippe Katerine producing and writing the songs) were bewitching exercises in soft-focus sweetness. For Fraise Vanille, Helena didn't use Katerine's production or songs. Instead the album is a tribute to the composer Serge Revanzi, the go-to composer for the French New Wave of the 1960s. His songs are simple pop tunes with lilting melodies that are perfectly matched to Noguerra's airy, sweet vocals. She and co-producer Sébastien Martel give each song an individual touch, sometimes veering into deep left field (like on the freewheeling trombone and snare duet of "La Vie de Cocagne") but never losing the intimate charm she instantly creates when she opens her mouth to sing. This attention to sonic detail means that despite the overall restraint shown by both singer and musicians alike, the album is always interesting, and on tracks like the sultry "La Peau Leon" or the heartbreakingly intimate "Moire Prefere," quite enthralling. Another thing that enhances the album but never breaks the near-magical spell are duets with Vincent Delerm, Marie-France, and the composer himself on the sprightly "Nous Vivions Duex." Only the wacky duet with the nearly banished Katerine on the silly "La Becasse" breaks the mood but luckily it falls at the end of the record and serves as a humorous coda. You don't have to know a thing about Nouvelle Vague to fall head over heels for this album; all you need are a set of working ears and a love of intimate, sexy, and lovely French pop.

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