Sylvie Vartan

Les Années RCA Vol. 1: 1961-1964

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Is a two-CD, 62-song set of Vartan's earliest recordings too much even for the fan? Probably, but for the completist, the volumes in the Les Années RCA series are undoubtedly the most thorough reissues of her vintage work. And as you can tell from the size of this anthology, there was a lot of it, with the equivalent of about five LPs of material coming out in the relatively small period this package (including three duets with Frankie Jordan, but otherwise credited to Vartan alone) covers. At times, it feels like a Francophone tour of American radio favorites from the first decade of rock & roll, as the program's dominated by her covers of U.S. hits, running the gamut from Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison, Ray Charles, Neil Sedaka, Major Lance, and the Isley Brothers to numerous girl group smashes. At times, it also feels like everything's being rearranged to sound like something to twist to, such is the incessant enthusiasm of her breathy, cheerful vocals and the peppy backup arrangements. Of course these are several levels below the originals, but if you have a taste for the roots of the French ye-ye sound, this delivers the goods in heaps. To her credit, she did sometimes cover some pretty obscure American rockers, like the Shirelles' "Putty" (more famous as done by the Yardbirds). And for changes of pace, she does sing in English occasionally, though those are among the less impressive efforts, as are her infrequent dabblings in country & western-influenced material. On the brighter side, there are a few decent outings that aren't covers of well-known U.S. hits. The most enjoyable of these are the dramatic, moody ballad "Réponds-Moi" and "La Vie Sans Toi," which sounds a little like girl group-influenced early British Invasion pop -- and was co-written by Mick Jones, the same guy who went on to Spooky Tooth and Foreigner.