Released to ride the success of the stage play Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris -- hence that most disingenuous of subtitles -- If You Go Away is one of the most calculating of the multitude of compilations detailing Brel's six-year stay with the Philips label. By 1970, Brel's music was as familiar to American radio listeners as any similarly inclined American songwriter. His songs had been recorded by Rod McKuen, Frank Sinatra, Al Hirt, Boby Goldsboro, Glen Campbell, Judy Collins, Johnny Mathis, Olivia Newton-John, Nancy Wilson, Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield, the Seekers, Al Martino, Jack Jones, and Scott Walker to name but a few. Perhaps 90 percent of the people who bought those records would not have known Jacques Brel from a bag of sand. But ten percent would, and, given the vast sales each of those other artists enjoyed, that added up to one hell of a demand for further enlightenment. That is the audience this collection unashamedly pursues, serving up the original French versions of all three of Brel's best-known numbers -- that is, "Ne Me Quitte Pas," "Quand o'n a Que L'Amour" and "Les Moribund," together with stage show favorites "Marieke," "La Valse a Mille Temps," and "Les Flamandes." The remaining cuts may not be so well-known, but are equally distinguished. It is, for want of a better term, the ultimate primer to Brel, at least in terms of his 1950s/early-'60s output, with the packaging as worthy of that title as the music. One of two Brel albums released within Philips' Connoisseur Collection, If You Go Away boasts a heavyweight sleeve (embossed with a bronze medallion) and an attractively informative booklet complete with French and English lyrics, and excellent liner notes. Even more impressively, the sound quality is better than on any other American pressing -- indeed, overlook the ten-song brevity and this emerges as essential a collection as you will find outside of France.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Thompson