Of Softer Tongues and the High Lonesome
Since last week’s column focused on the grand sweep of the western sky, the big drama of the windblown plains and evocations of vastness spreading from the majestic saguarro into the roiling sky and even further into the starry starry night, I figured this week we could turn our ears to something a little more intimate – namely, the sound of the human tongue making love to itself. Let’s listen to some French music.
Just listen to Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin here. That’s the sound of two (awkwardly) beautiful people sleep-mumbling through mouthfuls of velvet. Listen to how their tongues push against the teeth, how the tongue softly rubs up against the roofs of their mouths as they coo at one another. The linguistic eroticism is compounded by lyrics like “You are the wave, And I the naked island”, or “You go, you go and you come, inside me my love you go and you come inside me my love and then we are one”.
Eesh. Even the babelfishiest of translations turns that one into cold shower fodder.
If I could do it all over again, I would learn to speak French. I would revel in the cliche’ of the francophile, plaster my lithe young torso in alternating black and white stripes, don a beret, handroll cigarettes of leafy, B-grade tobacco and toss off poetry like so many platitudes (picking bits of loose leaves from my tongue and squinting my eyes against the hazy gray-blue lutes that dance about my face in dimly-lit cafes). I would experience existential crises and crumble languidly against sprightly mademoiselles like April March.
Over the next few weeks, Backlog historians and cultural pundits are going to be working on building an arching bridge that will serve to connect disparities in the musical world, pushing against the boundaries of the familiar and the exotic, binding the twang of Bob Wills to the cosmopolitan flair of Serge Gainsbourg, the bouyant pop of April March to the blues of Mali, the easy swing of the Ethiopians to the rancor of a Dutch post-punk band.
This week, as a way to bridge the gap between the high lonesome cry of the singing cowboys and the slick-lipped provocations of the French, let’s turn our ears to an underappreciated album by ABBC, a collaboration between Calexico’s Joey Burns and John Convertino and the Amor Belhom Duo.
I’m sure that most readers here are familiar with Calexico, Tucson’s genre-bending country troubadours. Burns and Convertino have played music together for the better part of twenty years, and continue to build on their populist, percussive aesthetic. Burns and Convertino have proven to be dynamic, if anything, creating compelling music not only as a duo, but with a swelled band bursting at the seams with mariachi tassles and the brash cry of a full horn section.
The Amor Belhom Duo are French nationals who found themselves drawn to the southwestern U.S. by fellow defector Marianne Dissard. Theirs is a thick mixture of traditional French instrumentation, open, jazzy flourishes, and the hard scrabble narrative of Americana.
On ABBC’s sole album, Tete a Tete, evocations of a lonesome desert valley are made manifest in minimalist, windswept arrangements – punctuated by the serpentine shake of percussion and whisper-thin vocals. Sparse tracks like “The Wrestler’s Masque” and “Le Savon Se Dissout Dans La Rigol” show that the Frenchmen in the Amor Belhom Duo share the native Tucsonians geologic aesthetic, but the music is run through with enough european influence as to keep a listeners ear at attention trying to pick out the moan of an errant accordian from the swirling musical ether.
Other tracks, like the slinking “Elevator Baby” and “Mobile Home”, sound like French pop songs that have been slowed by laudanum and stricken by spurs.
The album is engaging from front to back, easing listeners from the accessible jangle of Americana to minimalist jazz rather deftly. The album bears all the grandeur and scope of a country ballad and the romance and swagger of a swinging french ditty. Tete A Tete also conjures up disparate musical elements and illustrates commonalities between a Hank Williams tune, the haunting melody of Miles Davis‘ In a Silent Way, and the throbbing, sparse hum of The For Carnation.
As discussed earlier, we can then start unraveling these common threads that bind a collaboration like this one and explore music that we may have never heard of.
For now, let’s stay in the west, laying on our dusty bedrolls, watching the heavens spin above us and dreaming of the rain-slicked streets of Paris. I recommend headphones for this listen.
[audio:http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/01%20La%20Valse%20Des%2024%20Heures.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/02%20Elevator%20Baby.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/03%20En%20Route%20To%20The%20Blanchisserie.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/04%20Mobile%20Home.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/05%20Orange%20Trees%20In%20The%20Yard.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/06%20Gilbert.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/07%20Pluie%20Sans%20Nuages.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/08%20The%20Wrestlers%20Masque.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/09%20Je%20Voudrais%20Me%20Rappeller.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/10%20Le%20Savon%20Se%20Dissout%20Dans%20La%20Rigol.mp3|artists=ABBC,ABBC,ABBC,ABBC,ABBC,ABBC,ABBC,ABBC,ABBC,ABBC|titles=La Valse Des 24 Heures,Elevator Baby,En Route To The Blanchisserie,Mobile Home,Orange Trees In The Yard,Gilbert,Pluie Sans Nuages,The Wrestlers Masque,Je Voudrais Me Rappeller,Le Savon Se Dissout Dans La Rigol]
ABBC – Tete A Tete
1. La Valse Des 24 Heures
2. Elevator Baby
3. En Route To The Blanchisserie
4. Mobile Home
5. Orange Trees In The Yard
7. Pluie Sans Nuages
8. The Wrestlers Masque
9. Je Voudrais Me Rappeller
10. Le Savon Se Dissout Dans La Rigol