various artists,
French Café
(Putumayo, 2003)

I asked a French co-worker to try out this CD. (True story.) After listening to it, he came back with a comme-ci comme-ca look and said, "I've heard most of this stuff before." That's the thing about this album -- if you know your French music, it's likely you've heard this stuff before.

French Café is intended for the majority of us that haven't been exposed to this music beyond a foreign film or background music at a trendy restaurant. So, if you enjoyed the music in the recent Le Divorce or nearly any Audrey Tautou film, then you'll love Putumayo's French Café. This assemblage of classic and modern French music is a pleasant survey of 20th-century musical styles, such as musette and chanson, that emanated from French cafés (hence the title).

While this is primarily a collection of popular French tunes, there are some songs that stand out, even among the "best-of." "Un Jour Comme un Autre" by Brigitte Bardot (yes, that Brigitte Bardot) is the gestalt of French music. There's the sultry voice from a woman whose beauty obviously translates from physical to vocal. Add a great trumpet and you've got a timeless song. For those seeking a jazzy taste, "Juste Quelqu'un de Bien" by Enzo Enzo is a great ditty best heard in a small club with an espresso in hand. Enzo's sultry voice is perfectly accompanied by a soft vibraphone. Or if you like something bordering on weird, then "Ondule" by Mathieu Boogaerts is the quirky oddball of the group that will suit. It's a pretty good song with soft vocals and a nice harmony, but the beeping background synthesizer gives it an odd studio sound that ostracizes it from the group. Similar to French cuisine, French Café offers something for every musical taste.

In French Café, the Putumayo name continues to be synonymous with quality music. This collection offers a broad swath of French music that is sure to please just about anybody. Plus, the CD jacket contains a bilingual introduction to each song and artist, and a bit of a history lesson. (What, you thought I knew about "chanson" music prior to this album?!?) So, grab a cup of café or coffee or whatever, put in French Café and give your ears a cultural education.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 27 March 2004

Buy it from