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Thomas Dutronc - Comme un Manouche Sans Guitare

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Artist: Thomas Dutronc

Album: Comme un Manouche Sans Guitare

Label: Universal France

Review date: May. 21, 2008

It must be hard to be the grown-up child of a rock star. This is not an ironic joke but a genuine sentiment: I’ve honestly always felt a little sorry for the Carnie Wilsons, Jacob Dylans and Julian Lennons of the world. These are the children of legends whose most sincere artistic ambitions are destined to be overshadowed by their famous parents. Or maybe they’re just not all that talented. It’s sad either way.

Then there’s Thomas Dutronc. He’s the love spawn of two of France’s most celebrated pop idols: Jacques Dutronc, the “Original Dandy” of ’60s French rock and later a respected film actor; and Francoise Hardy, the sweet-voiced poster girl of ye-ye and a singular songwriting talent. It’s a glamorous inheritance, but Thomas, though an accomplished guitarist and songwriter himself, never claimed his pop star birthright, choosing a low-key career as a session player for international names like Henri Salvador.

Comme un Manouche Sans Guitare marks the 34-year-old’s first solo effort, and while it’s natural to assume the material here would be a generation removed from the mod-a-go-go ’60s, the surprise is in the direction. The album’s title references jazz manouche, the “gypsy jazz” of the 1930s made famous by Django Reinhardt. Reinhardt’s music inspired the young Dutronc to pick up his first guitar, and a practiced imitation of the old master’s style led to Thomas’ breakthrough appearance on Benoit Charest’s score to the animated film The Triplettes of Belleville in 2003, his biggest success to date.

Comme un Manouche adds Dutronc’s cool, easy vocals and a slight modern polish to that formula, creating a pleasant contemporary take on Parisian jazz swing that experiments just enough to justify its existence while retaining enough authenticity to avoid parody. Thomas’ pop sensibilities come to the fore on the obvious single, “J’aime plus Paris” (a critique of modern Paris that some critics have called an answer song to the elder Dutronc’s overly romantic “Il Est Cinq Heures, Paris S'Eveille”), while a stripped-down acoustic rhythm suffices on the title track (which translates into “Like a Gypsy Without a Guitar”). Accordions and fiddles add to the pre-war ambience, particularly on the sunny instrumental “China Boy” and the haunting violin showpiece “Veish a No Drom.”

But the trip in the way-back machine is not without a few detours. The bossa number “N.A.S.D.A.Q.,” is nice enough as an homage to Pierre Barouh, but simply sounds jarring in sequence. Other numbers are overlong or silly, notably the dramatic spoken piece “Les Frites Bordel.” But the obligatory ballad, “Je Les Veux Toutes,” is both moody and pretty, and reveals Dutronc as an artist quite capable of writing and performing contemporary pop if he felt like it.

Still, to say Comme un Manouche Sans Guitare is an excellent debut from a promising young artist would be overselling both. It’s a uniformly pleasing, tasteful tribute to a lost age by a lifelong devotee of the jazz manouche. And while it’s too soon to know whether this generation’s Dutronc will make his own legacy, Comme un Manouche goes a long way to ensuring he’ll be more than an epilogue in his parents’ biopic.

By Nick Cuce'

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