If you want a taste, Bogart- or Bergman-like, of Paris between the wars, Lucienne Boyer can oblige. Born in 1901, her childhood was a happy idyll enough until World War One awakened her to reality. Early in the war, her father was killed, and young Lucienne had to work in a munitions factory with her mother. It was there that her incipient talent as a performer was noted. At 16, she sang in cabarets. Not yet out of her teens, she also modeled. An office position with a prominent Parisian theater led to her big break, and
by the time she was 25, she was singing in the best Parisian venues.
She began to make recordings at the same time. Eighteen of them, recorded between 1926 and 1933 for French Columbia, are included in this collection. Boyer's signature tune, "Parlez-moi d'amour", opens this disc. Recorded in 1930, it became a standard no less evocative of time and place than Charles Trenet's "La Mer," Rina Ketty's "J'attendrai," and Édith Piaf's "L'accordéoniste." It is a gentle, almost languid waltz, with a simple melody, and even simpler harmonies and construction. Sung without Boyer's artistry, it would be as exciting as a week-old brioche. As caressed by Boyer, it is both sexy and demure - a prime example of a performer spinning straw into gold.
Her voice is full of feminine contradictions. She is both a schoolgirl and a sexual threat. There is the innocence of a juvenile, yet the experience of a woman who has seen something of love. Her singing is nasal, but nevertheless not lacking in either power or appeal. Boyer singing opera would be a disaster, but, with diva-like grandeur, she wraps the listener around her little finger with her calculation – unheard by us – of even the smallest effect.
Although "Parlez-moi d'amour" is by far her most famous record, Boyer had the fortune to record material written by the finest French songwriters of the time. Given the proper promotion and circumstances, any of these songs could have been as successfas "Parlez-moi d'amour." They reflect popular music tastes of the time, most notably an interest in the seductive rhythms of the tango.
This disc has been produced by David Lennick, who also did the transfers from the 78-rpm discs. The originals are somewhat noisier than those used in other Naxos Nostalgia releases that I've heard, but not distractingly so. The comforting hiss of a stylus on a shellac disc mixes well with a puff on a Gauloise and a few sips of Pernod.
Copyright © 2001, Raymond Tuttle