Gabriel Yacoub, De la Nature des Choses (Le Roseau, 2008)

French singer Gabriel Yacoub is one of those performers whose music may not overwhelm people or provide instant gratification, but who never fails to make an intriguing recording. Best known as the leader of the revered "Renaissance rock" band Malicorne, Yacoub has spent nearly forty years among France's finest musical exports, and along the way has embraced a number of different styles. At first listen his newest album De la Nature des Choses sound like a typically mellow recording in the singer/songwriter vein, but Yacoub mixes in a number of subtle twists that will reward those who listen closely.

The key to De la Nature des Choses is the unusual assortment of instrumentation which Yacoub uses to back up his singing. Yacoub himself alternates between guitar, banjo, mandolin, and autoharp. His primary accompanists on this recording are Yannick Hardouin on piano and bass and Gilles Chabenat on vielle à roue (French hurdy-gurdy), with additional periodic support from a horn section, backing singers, and some light percussion. The combination of instruments is unusual, but the arrangements generally work. I'm a fan of the sound of hurdy-gurdies in general, but the use of the vielle à roue as a support instrument in delicate arrangements is unique at least among the recordings with which I'm familiar, and it adds an otherworldly dimension to the overall sound that I found very appealing. Likewise, the horn section is used sparsely and delicately, but if you pay attention you'll hear how well it works.

I didn't think any of the songs De la Nature des Choses were as catchy as "Beauté" and "Ces Dieux-Là" off Yacoub's previous studio album The Simple Things We Said, but that could partially be attributed to the French in those songs being relatively easy for me to follow. Still, the new album has some highlights, particularly the melodically intricate "Elle Disait" and the bluesy "Le Bois Mort." Gabriel Yacoub is a venerable artist still finding new ways to express himself musically, and De la Nature des Choses really grew on me with repeated listens.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

a solo performance of "Il Aurait Du"

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