Next: Jacques Brel

Various Artists

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Next: Jacques Brel Review

by William Ruhlmann

The French label Barclay Records, with which singer/songwriter Jacques Brel was associated for most of the 1960s and '70s, released a compilation of recordings of his songs in March 2004 that differs significantly from this U.S. edition. The French version of Next Brel has 15 tracks to the American 12, but that doesn't mean simply that three tracks have been deleted. In fact, there are six tracks on the French album not found on the American one: "If We Only Have Love," by Dionne Warwick; "Amsterdam," by Anne Watts; "If You Go Away," by Emiliana Torrini; "Next," by Gavin Friday & the Man Seezer; "The Desperate Ones," by Nina Simone; and "Seasons in the Sun," by Terry Jacks (a number one hit in the U.S.). But there are also three tracks on the American album not contained on the French one: "Les Flamandes," by French chanteuse Barbara; "Ne Me Quitte Pas," by Nina Simone; and "My Death," by Scott Walker. The deletions and substitutions make for less repetition of songs on the American album. The French one has two performances each of "If You Go Away" ("Ne Me Quitte Pas" in French), "Amsterdam," and "Next." The American disc only repeats "If You Go Away," and the versions, by Dusty Springfield singing in English and French, and by Nina Simone singing in French, are quite distinct. Brel's songs are very dramatic, and the performers make the most of that drama, whether using the relatively sentimental English-language adaptations of Rod McKuen or the closer ones by Mort Shuman created for the musical revue Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (the original off-Broadway cast album of which remains the definitive Brel compilation in English). Annotator Thelma Blitz correctly identifies American expatriate Walker, who has three tracks, as "England's greatest popularizer of Brel's material," but Simone (another American expatriate), Springfield, and David Bowie are no slouches, either, and there are some interesting later interpreters, such as the Divine Comedy and Marc Almond, making this is a representative sampling of the (mostly) English-speaking singers who have performed Brel from the 1960s to the early 21st century. Too bad all the extra tracks from the French album weren't included.

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