Fans of Giant Sand and Calexico should need no introduction to French singer and cinema auteur, Marianne Dissard. Director of the Giant Sand flick Drunken Bees and Joey Burns’ femme fatale foil on The Ballad Of Cable Hogue Dissard moved to the States in her teens when her parents relocated eventually putting down roots in Tucson in 1985. Aside from her appearance on Calexico’s albums Joey Burns composed much of the music on her 2008 album L’Entredeux while L’Abandon was a reaction to the breakup of her marriage to Naim Amor, another continental import to the Tucson music scene. Both albums featured Dissard’s odd combination of French “chanson” and dusty Tucson Americana, odd indeed but a sound that reflected the European influences on the likes of Calexico with their Morricone inspired vistas and harked back to the kinship shared by Lee Hazlewood and Serge Gainsbourg, two artists who knew the alchemy of putting a sensual female voice over an impressionistic musical canvas.
Dissard decided to return to Europe last year but not before she recorded this, the third in her “Tucson trilogy.” On this occasion she recruited Sergio Mendoza from Tucson’s Y La Orkestra to write the music while Giant Sand’s Thoger Lund adds to the mix. The result is perhaps her most successful album to date, luxurious in its sumptuousness, molasses of music poured over her provocative voice as she bridges the Atlantic with some twang here and Bal-mussette there. There’s an analogue buzzing noise right at the beginning before Dissard leads us into the beguiling Am Letzen, a dreamy drifting ballad with multitracked vocals and a muted Nick Cave feel about it. With lyrics in French and German the European feel is also reminiscent of the Prague influenced Walkabouts. The spell cast is broken with Mouton Bercail, a neon lit rain slicked highway ride with spangled guitar bursts that sounds as if it sprang from a Davis Lynch movie. Loosely translated as Sheep Pen, O level French denies this listener the opportunity to understand Dissard’s urgent vocals here but the translation reveals lyrics that fit the lurid underworld suggested by the music such as ” I’ve done so many motels and basements/I’ve wasted so much time/so many dumps and shitholes/drooled so much blood/done so many fucked up things/made so many promises.”
Pomme lightens the mood somewhat with it’s childlike chorus before Je Ne Savais Pas hoves into view with vituperative lyrics and Gothic drama which would give the late Nico a run for her money. On Torture Dissard updates Serge Gainsbourg’s misanthropy singing “a tunnel with no lights, no smells and I walk barefoot in the mud under vaults that hang down. On the ground, soiled bodies, and cockroaches on the walls and rats that copulate under the drops.” Keyboard, horns and mellotron add to the melodrama. Election soars somewhat with snarly guitar solos and at the end a snapshot of La Marsaillaise on wheezy accordion. Salamandre is Gallic in the extreme, ponderous piano and accordion painting a doomed portrait, a Piaf in existential despair, a glorious and wounded sound that recalls the photographs of Robert Doisneau who captured the dying embers of Parisian decadence. The Lost Generation would dig this, its sensuality and despair as thick as Gauloise smoke. A parting gift from Tucson and a return to European roots The Cat Not Me bridges the divide with a handsome heft of Tucson musicianship and Dissard’s heritage.