Little French Songs is Carla Bruni's first album since 2008's Comme Si de Rien N'Etait, and her first outing as France's former first lady. Reception in the English-speaking press on the European side of the Atlantic has been middling at best, while in France the album has been greeted with more enthusiasm. The truth may lie somewhere in between for most, but for those with at least a working knowledge of the French chanson tradition, both in its formal sense and through its various revolutionary phases, they will find that most of this fits squarely inside it (though that knowledge is not necessary to enjoy the album). One can hear Bruni's love of artists from Georges Brassens and Charles Trénet to Pierre Barouh and Serge Gainsbourg in these simple yet elegant tunes. She wrote most of the album herself. Its economic production is driven by a nylon-string guitar in the forefront, adorned by some sparse brass here, a minimal harmonium or Wurlitzer there, a drum or percussion elsewhere. On "Mon Raymond," she celebrates her husband Nicolas Sarkozy while utterly -- and comedically -- humanizing him. By contrast, she wryly skewers his successor French President François Hollande ("Le Pingouin") as boring and without personality -- indulging in sass befitting Brigitte Fontaine. Her breezy yet moving adaptation of Trénet's nugget "Dolce Francia" contains a spoken word introduction with Taofik Farah's guitar and Ballake Sissoko's kora atop a breezy violincello and shakers. She makes this classic her own. "Prière," a co-write between Bruni and Julien Clerc, channels Brassens' inspiration in her own idiosyncratic way. One can hear Barouh and Gainsbourg in the Caribbean-cum-samba rhythmic twist in "Chez Keith et Anita." It's a clever song about finding peace and quiet at the home of Keith Richards and former girlfriend Anita Pallenberg circa 1970 -- Marianne Faithful is apparently also there, smelling of vanilla. Sissoko also appears on the lithe, beautiful "Liberté" near the set's end. This is not a political song -- at least not in the usual sense. Here, as chanson meets the bohemian cafe, freedom is tender, bittersweet, and regarded through the gaze of memory. Little French Songs is exactly what it says it is. Bruni's songwriting is deceptive in its limpid simplicity, full of reverie, wit, and the directness of her breathy voice, which is well traveled but contains delight at its heart.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek