Various Artists

Beginners Guide to France

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When it comes to world music, there are two labels that do it better than anyone else for the common man, Rough Guides and Nascenté with their Beginner's Guide To... series. While other labels certainly do a fine job, these two companies have a way of producing their recordings to appeal to those who have or may have heard something and want to know more. This triple-disc set, Beginner's Guide to France, showcases the wide variety of uniquely French styles of popular song that have all originated somewhere else -- from the cafes and salons to the bordellos and street corners -- and were eventually played out in recital halls or in dance clubs. The first disc is laid out historically, beginning in the 1930s and ending with the '50s with some of the legendary performers such as Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet, Georges Brassens, Juliette Gréco, Dalida, Yves Montand, Gilbert Bécaud, and Jacques Brel, among others. Disc two focuses on big beat sounds and the French take on rock & roll in the '60s and '70s and features brilliant performances from Brigitte Fontaine, Jacqueline Taïeb, Edouard, and, of course, the great Café Sarava singer and songwriter Pierre Barouh. Disc three brings listeners from the '80s to the present day and includes performances by Carla Bruni, Watcha Clan, Massilia Sound System, and French-Arab outfit Boukakes, among others. In sum, this is a rather wide-ranging listen to the various aspects of French song. Truth be told, though, while this collection is excellent, one particular French innovator is not included here -- Serge Gainsbourg -- which must have been a licensing problem and not an oversight.

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