Here's an index of mid-20th century popular French music, laid out in recordings made between 1926 and 1947. Gaps in the fabric are perhaps inevitable; the absence of Yvette Guilbert, for example, is regrettable. The earliest examples feature sultry Mistinguett (born Jeanne-Marie Bourgeois) whose date of birth is estimated as early as 1873; her campy boyfriend Maurice Chevalier; and Josephine Baker, an African-American who shed her identity as a vaudeville blackface buffoon to become the hottest stage sensation in all of Europe. Chevalier's open disdain for Baker was apparently fueled by his own Continental blend of ignorant racism and professional resentment as the elegant, lithe, and lovely Baker quickly eclipsed the aging Mistinguett. Two selections by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli with the Quintet of the Hot Club of France sustain the accuracy of this compilation, as the Hot Club's brand of guitar-driven jazz was a mainstay of Parisian entertainment from 1934 until after the Second World War. This compilation is useful for those who wish to brush up on French pop vocalists, as Lucienne Boyer, Yvonne Printemps, Lys Gauty (born Alice Gautier), Suzy Solidor (Suzanne Rocher), Jean Sablon, Maryse Damia, Fréhel (born Marguerite Boulc'h, professionally known as "La Periwinkle') and Tino Rossi (bellowing the dreaded "Vieni, Vieni") demonstrate all the standard aspects of the genre. Charles Trenet's unforgettably giddy masterpiece "Boum!" would resurface years later when it was used as a weird leitmotif in Jaco van Dormael's fascinating film Toto Le Héros (1991). Edith Piaf is roundly remembered here with no less than three tracks, the best of which is the hauntingly beautiful "Les Trois Cloches," performed in the company of Les Compagnons de la Chanson.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf