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Songs to raise a glass to

Wazozo - Newton Circus
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Jan. 1, 2010

Review by Brad Walseth

One of the highlights of my recent trip to New Orleans was catching Helen Gillet performing in Yuki on Frenchmen Street. Accompanied only by a guitarist, Gillet played her cello and sang French chansons to the delight of the crowd. On Gillet's Wazozo group's debut album Newton Circus, the chansons are still delightful, but fleshed out by the addition of more instrumentation. Gillet, was born in Belguim, lived in Singapore and spent much of her life in the northern Chicago suburb of Mundelein before locating to New Orleans a few years ago, has performed with James Singleton, Fred Lonberg-Holm and many more. Here, she is joined by guitarist Gregory Good, violinist Daron Douglas, Luke Brecthelsbauer on harp and xylophone, Walt McClements on accordion and Bill Strickland on french horn.

Gillet's husky and quite attractive voice recalls Edith Piaf, while the additional musicians add frosting to an already substantial musical base. Ranging from Pink Martini's "Sympathique" to the traditional French drinking song "Chevaliers de La Table Ronde," Gillet shows a knack for covering these Franco musical gems. Piaf is covered of course ("Mon Amart de Saint Jean," "Padam Padam" and "Milord") and Gillet deftly presents these tales of broken hearts in a cold world. Additionally, she is a fine interpreter of Georges Brassens - perhaps the father of the modern singer/songwriter - covering five of his numbers here, including the jaunty favorite "La Chasse aux Papillons." Jean Renoir's "La Complainte de La Butte" - revived in recent years by Rufus Wainwright in Moulin Rouge is also covered, and an original number by Gillet - "Les Pagodes" makes one hope the artist will write and record more of her own work in the future. This beautiful song is followed by another of my highlights - a stunning version of Julos Beaucarne's "Le Petit Royaume" - that is utterly entrancing and will linger long afterwards in your heart and mind. Songs to raise a glass to - from the Old Country to the French Quarter and beyond.

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