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Francesca BlanchardFrancesca Blanchard
Album: Deux Visions
Label: Vis-A-Vis
Tracks: 12

Singer-songwriter Francesca Blanchard spent her childhood in southern France and her young adulthood in Vermont, and this cultural dichotomy is reflected in her music. Although she's still only in her 20s, Deux Visions, which turns out to be her debut full-length CD (there was an earlier EP, back in 2011, that passed me by), is an astonishing demonstration of her artistic maturity.

She sings in both French and English, and the multicultural rightness of this approach is cleverly pointed by the album's very title - deux visions denoting both "two visions" and the word "divisions". The duality extends to the equality in the actual song-count (six songs in each language, with each category conveying that language's distinct worldviews). Francesca's songs may not actually be voiced bilingually in the literal sense, but there's an uncanny dual sensibility in the way the lyrics are expressed, a sensibility that's almost subliminal and, if you speak or have a knowledge of French, subtle and sophisticated. That may sound pretentious and slightly whimsical, but in reality it's almost as natural as speaking both languages at once and yet it's also almost as though Francesca is delighting in playing with language in her depictions of varying states of loneliness and loss. She helpfully provides translations (both ways) in the accompanying booklet, and it's worth investing extra time in studying these while you're listening. Having said that, the translation doesn't always do the nuances of the original justice - and this is surprising given the emphasis on understanding and mutual inclusivity of Francesca's writing, and given that it was deemed worthwhile to supply translations in the first place. But language can be such a personal thing…

Musically, there's the half-expected hints and ambiences of chanson, but not in any auto-pilot derivative way; there's also distinct crossover hints of both Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, with Americana and indie flavourings to the instrumentation on occasion. Acoustic and electric guitars, yes, with snatches of pedal steel, organ, limited strings and brass, yet sometimes quite full arrangements - but the personnel credits are not easy to locate (printed sideways-on, almost in the fold). However, there's plenty of arty pics and a whole page of thankyous. Generally, the musical arrangements suit the writing well, with the exception of the casual calypso-style brass breeziness of the penultimate track; the most captivating are the more delicate trackssuch as The Sea and Papa… Père. Whatever, the spaces between the languages are the spaces between the musics, and vice versa, and the result can at times be positively stimulating. Keep an open mind…

David Kidman