Various Artists

Café de Paris: 18 French Accordion Classics

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This was the first of Music Club's two compilations dedicated to the bal-musette, an accordion-based tradition that, to many, is the very soul of Paris. While the subsequent release, Sound of Paris, concentrates primarily on modern bands, these 18 tracks cover some of the best-known interpreters who were active from 1930 through 1941. The ambience here is quite different from that of the second set, more like a black-and-white photo by Robert Doisneau than a tourist's color-saturated Polaroid. The performers are barely two generations removed from the homesick Auvergnat (natives of the Auvergne, a mountainous region in southern France) migrant workers who once puffed their imported bagpipes at bar dances. Although the more cooperative Italian accordion eventually replaced the pipes and fiddles, guitars, and double reeds were later added to the mix, the waltzes and javas retained a defiantly rustic, naïve charm. The instrumentals are intensely redolent of an earthier Paris back when it was a festival of intellectual grace, dubious plumbing, and bawdy pleasures, hovering on the perilous brink of war. Emile Vacheur, a much-imitated icon whose precise squeezebox technique featured a trademark quick vibrato, is represented by a delightful pair of melodies. Among the other important orchestras on hand are Tony Murena et son Ensemble, Guerino et son Orchestre, Medard Ferrero et ses Clochards, Orchestre Musette Victor, and Gus Viseur et son Orchestre. Mainstream music hall and movie stars of the day such as Jean Gabin and Damia add an urbane touch, while Edith Piaf's legendary "L'Accordioniste" still sounds as fresh and poignant as the day it was released.

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