Marianne Dissard. Cibola Gold – Best Of 2008-2015

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Marianne Dissard is probably best known as a sometime collaborator with several bands from the Tucson scene including Giant Sand and Calexico; most notably, she is the femme fatale on Calexico’s Ballad Of cable Hogue. A noted filmmaker and photographer in addition to being a chanteuse, Dissard recorded three albums in Tucson, the last being The Cat, Not Me along with two albums in what she calls her City Series, Paris One Takes and Cologne Vier Takes. Last year she relocated to Europe and this collection, culled from the above albums, is something of a farewell to her American years.

Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed L’Entredeux and The Cat, Not Me, albums that steered a course between European (and in particular French) pop tradition and American guitar rock. Despite the plethora of Tucson musicians the overall sense was of a continental bent, Serge Gainsbourg being an obvious touchstone, Dissard singing in French (and occasionally German), her voice usually somewhat sultry in the grand manner of the likes of Juliette Greco and Francoise Hardy.  Her lyrics (handily translated on her website) sensual, poetic, dark, a mix of Rimbaud and French argot. Above all her words were wrapped in a polyglottal musical language, Mariachi, twang guitars and Chanson all thrown into the pot and this collection is a fine reflection of that.

The 13 songs gathered here are each and every one reason to make the listener search out the albums they are taken from. Dissard roams from the opening accordion jollity of Les Draps Sourds, the Bal Musette setting disguising the lusty goings on in the lyrics, to the nightmarish claustrophobia of Tortue. She almost purrs on the magnificent Pomme, a song that initially recalls Parisian cobbled streets before a grand, almost prog, middle eight weighs in. On the rock side there’s some ferocious guitar squabbles on the driving The One And Only, another fine guitar solo on the thrilling Election and Trop Express oozes sensuality over a funky Hammond organ riff. However Dissard can also come across like a Gallic Nico back in her Chelsea Girl days on the string laden acoustic ballad Cayenne or conjure up a glistening bucolic world on the sublime Les Confetttis. The crowning glory perhaps is the meandering musical map of Un Gros Chat with its spooky bowed saw and splashing cymbals, the lyrics abstractly erotic, Dissard like a whispered siren drawing listeners into her realm.

The album is an excellent entree into the weird and wonderful world of Ms. Dissard, a dizzying potpourri of sensual frissons seasoned with some wonderful music. The package itself is worth delving into. Packed full of pictures , tributes, poems and snippets of correspondence from the Tucson days it gives a measure of Dissard’s time there. In addition, with the deluxe package, Ms. Dissard has liberally garlanded each CD with golden confetti, some of which is still cluttering up the keyboard here.

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Naim Amor. Hear The Walls. Fort Lowell Records

Naim Amor is yet another of those European artists lured into the lair of Tucson to collaborate with members of Giant Sand and Calexico and who forgot to return. A French native, Amor was quickly assimilated into the local scene along with his then partner, Marianne Dissard, releasing albums as part of Amor Belhom Duo and ABBC, before going solo. Retaining a European sensibility on his own albums, often singing in French and often reaching into the world of La Variete, that particularly French version of pop music, Amor can come across as an Arizona equivalent of Stan Getz in his bossa nova days. He delivers sumptuous candy floss sounds that caress the ears of casual listeners but which reward those prepared to dive in for a longer look (and listen) with the cream of Tucson musicians and producers all grooving to this sunny Mediterranean sound. It’s significant that at times one imagines Amor’s music sound tracking films by Jacques Tati and even early Roger Vadim as he has a fine sideline in composing film scores and has released a series of instrumental albums for imaginary movies.

Hear The Walls, Amor’s latest offering, features for the most part Amor on guitars and vocals with Giant Sand’s Thoger Lund on upright base. Recorded straight to tape with some string overdubs added later it belies its simple conception as the warm sounds caress (that word again but there’s no other way to say it) and envelop the listener. Using a variety of guitars Amor sounds as if he’s sitting beside you gently plucking or strumming while his voice is a hushed and evocative Parisian come on, as French as a pack of Gitanes, a youthful Serge Gainsbourg. It’s a sonic delight and credit must go to Jim Waters who recorded the album and Jim Blackwood who mastered it. Amor says of the album
“When you turn the music off, you can hear the walls-the sound of one specific place, it’s nude ambiance that makes it so unique. This album fits the moment and the place when you decide to finally turn the music on again…and listen”
and it’s true that this is essentially an ambient album that can transport the listener to another place. The opening song Live For It inhabits the same universe as Angelo Badalamenti’s music for Twin Peaks, a surrealistic netherworld where people swim in thick air never needing to surface for breath. Turn The Magic On is a sound map to late night silence, that space when the music stops and one reflects on what was heard, a familiar feeling for those caught in the endless embrace of listening, a favourite album conjuring up moments past, moments lost perhaps. Seulement Toi echoes these solitary moments with liquid guitar sounds that recall The Durutti Column’s cascades while Over the Miles throbs with a warm heartbeat. As Fast As The Tall Ships Go is a magnificent instrumental with Lund’s bass playing adding a tenebrous sonority beneath rippling guitars with the end result not too far from a Nick Drake recording. In The Blue Waters Of My Mind could be on the Popeye soundtrack, its watery immersion reflecting clear blue depths. Cherches Dans La Brume continues in this vein but No Way Back then moves into neurotic chamber pop territory, pizzicato strings amplifying the anxiety in the lyrics. The most cinematic piece here, Au Large de Tres Bras is a halting and sombre moment with the strings foremost but careful listening reveals some discordant guitar trickery in the background that adds to an overall sense of menace such as that conveyed in Polanski’s Repulsion. Some might find that far fetched but several late night listens here have evoked that response on each occasion. Au Rouge De Ton Baiser is late night France, seductive and mysterious, a Brassai monochrome set to music and the album ends with two more evocative instrumentals which demonstrate Amor’s two worlds, Learning America welcoming a new country while Cours La Rejoindre seems to wave farewell to the past.

As we said above this is sumptuous music to wallow in, a delight to listen to, a late night offering that will have you dreaming of Parisian spires, cobbled lanes and films from Marcel Carne and Jean Vigo. Enjoy.

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Marianne Dissard. The Cat. Not Me. Vacilando ’68 Recordings.

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.

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Dan Stuart. Arizona: 1993-95. Cadiz Music.

Dan Stuart bounced back into view two years ago with his excellent recording, The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings. Long missing from action (apart from some sorties with revived Green On Red and Danny and Dusty line ups) he resurfaced in Oaxaca, Mexico with a tale to tell of suicidal leanings and incarceration in a mental hospital. Since then he’s issued forth from his Mexican bolthole on a few occasions (appearing with Robyn Hitchcock in Norway for example) but otherwise he seems to be living a Lowry like existence down Mexico way.
While the world (or a few of us at least) wait patiently for further musings from Mr. Billings (and Dan promises a “false” memoir in book form sometime soon) Cadiz Records have done us the grand favour of unearthing the two albums Stuart made in his wilderness years following the implosion of Green On Red and compiling them (along with three unreleased songs) into a handsome double pack with liner notes from Stuart and his compadre Al Perry.
Perry co wrote the songs and got equal billing on the first of these albums, Retronuevo, released in 1993. A Tucson musicians’ musician Perry seems to have been landlocked in what Wikipedia insists is “The Old Pueblo” although he’s recorded with scores of Arizona musicians including Rich Hopkins, Giant Sand and the legendary Fish Karma. On Retronuevo he picks up where Chuck Prophet left off as he and Stuart deliver an album that is not a million miles removed from the last couple of GoR albums, Scapegoats and Too Much Fun. Stuart, released from the confines and expectations of Green On Red ( “I was the guy paid to throw up in his shoes” he notes) appears to relax and engage in what he calls the “Tucson tempo, ” as they wallow in a very fine set of songs that are based in the blues and country sounds that permeate the south west. There’s a loose and lazy groove running throughout whether they’re mainlining some grungy blues notes on Daddy’s Girl or Mamacita or sweeping skywards on the sweet pedal steel of Neil Harry on Better Than I Did while Eyes Of A Fool is a brisk return to the early Green on Red garage sound and Little Slant Six is early Beach Boys in the desert instead of on a beach. Stuart and Perry reminisce on the making of the album in the new liner notes recalling that they were both in the throes of trying to save their respective marriages and that drugs were still an item. Despite this the pair managed to record an album that Perry refers to as “not a masterpiece or anything but it’s a lovely snapshot of that time period..in a sense it’s a perfect album because we expressed exactly what was going on in our lives at the time.” Well put and it says it better than anything we could come up with.

Can O’ Worms followed in 1995 and was Stuart’s first solo album although there is a great deal of collaboration with JD Foster who co wrote several songs and plays guitar. Can O’ Worms is a darker affair than Retronuevo with Stuart writing some pretty naked sleeve notes relating to his marital troubles at the time, troubles that seem to have been subsequently resolved but which reappeared and eventually rent his relationship asunder 15 years later leading to his breakdown and eventual emergence as Billings. Indeed he claims that Can O’ Worms and The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings are essentially the same album with the same woman driving him to a dark space which he can only express in his music. Here the template remains the latter Green On Red albums but there’s a bite and bitterness that was lacking in their twilight years along with a decidedly Spanish flavour to several of the pieces. Foster and fellow guitar player John Dee Graham excel throughout and the production by Foster is superb with What A Day in particular standing out as a wearied vocal from Stuart is buttressed by some tender guitar and very fine percussion by Daren Hess. This is a song you can wallow in for a long time and never feel sated, it has a Lou Reed feel to it but with a clear desert air, not the grime of New York. As Stuart says, this is a break up album and we all know that makes for great art (Blood On The Tracks, exhibit one) or so they say. “I was living in Arizona after a very bad time in Madrid, we had been married five years when she ran off with a carpet salesman from Santa Barbera.” This bathetic description of Stuart’s situation at the time drives the album. There are recollections of Spain on La Pasionaria, a deceptively attractive cancion that relates a drug deal carried out in muggling heat while In Madrid appears to be a requiem for the fallen of the Spanish Civil War. Stuart bemoans his lost love on a brace of songs that form the heart of the album. Home After Dark shimmers like a heat haze as he sings “You can call me a liar, go ahead say it to my face. You can set my soul on fire, feel free, put me in my place. Twist the knife in a little deeper, I’m only flesh and bone.” It’s always been an outstanding song but Stuart’s revelations add an insight to the hurt he was feeling at the time adding to the song’s intensity. Who Needs More is surprisingly enough a celebration of love given a fine loose limbed bluesy feel but What A Day returns to the confessional with Stuart sounding weary and broken proclaiming “If I’d known what today would bring, what would I change?…only everything.” He’s pleading here for a return to the happy go lucky feel of Who Needs More but instead he tumbles into the nightmare neon flashing twilight world of Expat Blues with gutbucket guitar and leery saxophone. Filipina Stripper is another trip into the underbelly with Stuart finding succour and danger in New Orleans as the band flail around in Tom Waits style. Going back to the liner notes Stuart describes his ex wife as leaving a lot to be desired but he celebrates her as a muse and her inspiration certainly fills two of the best songs here. Waterfall returns to the chugging majesty of Green On Red at their best while Can’t Get Through is a dreamlike wisp of a song with sweet lap steel and harmonica as Stuart sings in his tenderest voice as he tries to communicate with his lost love. At the end, despite his stories of desperation and despair, Stuart rallies himself on The Greatest where he cites Mohammed Ali and his comebacks as inspiration for his own comeback.

Dust settled, we know now that Stuart and his muse made up and he disappeared from view for a decade and a half until a final separation lead to Marlowe Billings. However, tucked at the end of the Can O’ Worms disc are three songs, previously unreleased, recorded in 1995. With JD Foster back in the producers chair and on guitar along with Daren Hess again on drums these sessions included Joey Burns, Nick Luca, Craig Shumacher and Jud Newcombe. Loosely produced, these songs tumble out rubbing their eyes in the daylight but all three are excellent and for firm fans well worth the price of admission here. South of The Pyrenees recounts again Stuart’s time in Spain and his meeting with his wife while the band hit a loose groove around his vocals. What’s The Use? is as fine a song as Stuart has ever delivered as he ponders on his relationship with his vocals again recalling Lou Reed. The jewel here is the backing with the band coming across like the Rolling Stones in their Fool To Cry period, the Wurlitzer and coiled guitars funky as hell as they slink around Stuart’s extended rap like a New York Van Morrison. Your Arab Friend is a pointed barb at that “carpet salesman” and Stuarts adopts his vintage sneer for a fine put down song while massed guitars ripple behind him and then improvise like a boozy countrified Grateful Dead.

While Can O’ Worms and Retronuevo are not exactly “lost” albums it’s a fair bet that they slipped under the radar of most folk. This package is an excellent opportunity to grab these documents of Dan Stuart’s first curtain call while we wait for his next missive.

Dan Stuart

Cadiz Music

Luz de Vida

Light of Life I think it says. When Blabber’n’Smoke met Howe Gelb back in January of this year it had only been a few days since the crazy and tragic shooting incident in Tucson which targeted their representative Garbrielle Giffords (who survived ) and killed six others. Now some Tucson musicians have gathered together to record an album whose proceeds will go towards helping those affected. Here’s the Giant Sand song that appears on it and the link to buy it if you so wish.
Recovery Mission

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Marianne Dissard. L’Entredeux.


A while back we reviewed Susie Hug’s latest album, recorded in Tucson with the help of Calexico, here Marriane Dissard performs a similar trick with an album produced by Calexico’s Joey Burns, recorded in Tucson and released on the same label, Vacilando ‘68.
Dissard is a filmmaker who relocated to Tucson with her then partner, Naim Amor, several years ago. She was the femme fatale vocalist who graced the Calexico song The Ballad of Cable Hogue on their Hot Rail album leading to her setting out as a recording artist in her own right. The title L’Entredeux can be translated as in between two and reflects her position as a singer very much in the French chanteuse tradition but recording with some of the cream of Tucson Americana musicians. Burns produces and plays guitar, bass and piano (and wrote the music for the majority of the songs), band mate John Convertino adds his unique shuffle and Willie Nelson’s harmonica player Mickey Raphael pops up on one song. In addition Dissard’s ex partner Naim Amor (another honorary Tucsonian) writes, sings and plays on several tracks.
While there is none of Calexico’s epic Mexicana forays on display, the committed listener will recognise Burns’ (and indeed Convertino’s) fingerprints all over the album. To Burns’ credit he has not produced an album of Cable Hogue retreads but added a deeply sensual backdrop to Dissard’s excellent voice. The songs are very much in the European tradition ranging from the Djangoesque Les Draps Sours to the Europop confection that is Les Confettis but any similarities to Eurovision pap are firmly stamped out as the players add layers and embellishments that drip with conviction. The best example is Flashback with its strong guitar outro while Merci De Rein Du Tout is sublime in its multilayered form.
Over it all is Dissard’s voice, strong, sultry, sexy, at times she sounds like a successor to Juliette Gréco, a soundtrack for anyone for whose vision of cool is early Godard, Gauloise cigarettes and left bank beatniks. When she sings on Sans Facon the effect is hair raising while Cayenne seeks out another (sometimes) French speaker from the Americas in the form of Leonard Cohen.
While Dissard sings all the words in French one doesn’t need to understand them in order to succumb to this album’s beauty.
Available via the internet for some time this UK release has two live songs added and is available here while Dissard’s website is here

Merci De Rein Du Toit listen

Susie Hug “Tucson Moonshine”

Over the past few years, Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico have been the hired guns of Americana. Need a rhythm section to enhance your dust-strewn ditties? They’re your men. It helps of course that Convertino is one of the best drummers around with a solid yet relaxed swing and that Burns has a direct line to south west cool. Here, transported to Tucson’s Wavelab studios and with a roster of local luminaries in tow we have Susie Hug, ex of UK indie band The Katydids, tapping into the Calexico lode in fine fashion. While her voice is as clear as ever the jangled pop sound of The Katydids is missing, instead we have a laid back set of songs that float and shimmer like a heat haze. There is nothing here that utilises the full blown Texarkana mariachi style that Calexico do so well but Hug uses the musicians to provide colour and atmosphere, the trumpet of Jacob Valenzuala wails mournfully on several songs while Convertino plays excellently throughout with tasty fills.
Hug’s clear voice has an anglo sensibility which at times is reminiscent of early eighties groups such as The Marine Girls. She is joined on the first song, “A Modern Lie” by Burns’ melancholic vocal. This is an excellent opener, accordion and Spanish guitar weave in and out while the pair duet magnificently. “A Modern Lie” and “Everybody Changes” are the songs that most evidently wear the Calexico imprint on their sleeve but “Cherry Blossom Hangs” has a delicate folk singer meets spaghetti western feel. “Flinch,” with dead pan vocals, sounds like The Raincoats in their latter days with some wonderful sonic rumblings from the band which are then revisited on the closer, “My Own Skeleton.”
One is reminded of the album that Convertino and Burns as OP8, along with Howe Gelb and Lisa Germano recorded some years ago although this is less dusty with more weight accorded to the singer. Hug’s songs are well up to par and the pairing with the Tucson crew is an inspired touch.

The album is released by a relatively new label, Vacilando '68 who appear to be becoming the main conduit for Tucson based music here in the UK. Hot on the heels of their release from Marianne Dissard, another Calexico sidekick, they are well worth keeping an eye on.

Website Susie Hug

Listen to A Modern Lie