The new self-titled album from Claude Fontaine is a record that simultaneously references reggae and French ye-ye pop. Claude Fontaine, out on Friday via Innovative Leisure, is a charming, if schizophrenic, release. And, it should be said, Claude's warm vocals go a long way towards making this succeed as much as it does.
The first half of Claude Fontaine finds Claude's breathy vocals layered over the top of largely skankin' rhythms, with the real highlights here being the sly "Little Sister" and the dubby "Cry for Another", where Fontaine's reverb-soaked performance feels like a natural part of a melody that sounds like something The Specials could have written. But just as soon as you find yourself falling in love with this odd mix of styles, Fontaine changes things up on the second half of the record. "I'll Play the Fool" is as light as air, a run at Jobim territory, while the bright bossa nova of "Strings of Your Guitar" is excellent, Claude's purr of a performance fitting perfectly with the light percussive touches.
It's worth highlighting the players here that make Claude Fontaine such a success, namely guitarist Tony Chin (Althea and Donna, among others), and Airto Moreira, the legendary Brazilian drummer. Along with those two formidable musicians are bassist Ronnie McQueen of Steel Pulse and Ziggy Marley drummer Rock Deadrick, and Sergio Mendes percussionist Gibi Dos Santos and Flora Purim bassist Andre De Santanna. There's a really impressive lineup here on Claude Fontaine, and the players give Fontaine enough space to fill these numbers out with the right mix of insouciance and swagger. But ultimately it's Claude's vocals here throughout this record that make what sounds like a mad experiment on paper work so well in actuality.
[Photo: Claude Fontaine / B+]