While there have been many recordings of the great Edith Piaf, too often they have suffered from under production, overproduction, or a complete lack of care for the performance quality of the recording. This is truly unfortunate for an artist of her stature and temperament -- particularly for listeners on this side of the Atlantic and younger Europeans who may have only been exposed to her records -- for all of Ms. Piaf's perfectionism, her recordings never held a candle to her concerts. This collection of her performances at the Olympia Theater in Paris, her venue of choice, is remarkable and presents her at her very best. Granted, these performances are taken from a period of eight years and are the highlights of other concerts, and therefore do not constitute a single performance. There are several complete concerts that do exactly this and do it well. But this collection focuses on one thing only -- Piaf's uncanny ability to communicate to the hearts of her audiences without gimmick or artifice. The stories of her legendary temper in the studio and in rehearsal may have all been true, but in front of an audience, she was both grand dame and one of the girls or guys, depending on who you were. Performances of her most well known songs, such as "Heureuse," "Mon Manege A Moi," "Les Mots D'Amour," "Mon Dieu," and "La Belle Historie D'Amour," are all here in dramatic excellence -- even in the later years of 1960 and 1961. There are also many surprises, not the least of which is the heartbreaking rendering of Michel Vaucaire's and Charles Dumont's "Les Flons Flons Du Bal," and her own collaboration with Gilbert Becaud, complete with chorus, "Legende," which rips out your heart so thoroughly you can hold it in your hands. What more can a song do -- or a collection of them? Despite the oft-warranted criticisms that collections such as this tell us little about artists, in this case there is an exception. Here stands Piaf, naked and rent asunder, the complete servant of her songs, her voice and her audience full of pathos, pain, and grace. If only one could shout "encore" to a ghost.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek