I met Giselle Webber, aka Gigi French, stamping hands at the entrance of Divan Orange before her show. From the press photos and video I had seen, I’ll admit, she wasn’t what I had expected. Wearing a sleeveless flowered summer dress with tan cowboy boots and loose hair, she could have gotten up there and performed sweet acoustic folksy tunes and no one would have bat an eye. However, when she got on stage, the stories I had read of her music came to life.
Playing guitar, accompanied by Eddy Blake Eaton on the upright bass, Sam Minevich on the vibraphone and Danny Marks on drums, she played two sets of eclectic songs. There were hints of rock, generous dollops of jazz and swing, and a dash of klezmer. While I couldn’t hear all the lyrics, which are in French, it didn’t matter so much because often the sounds of the words — her pleading, jazzy wails, and where she sang, with her voice creating a fifth instrument in the piece — sounded good regardless.
Gigi French made me wish I was in a smoky Parisian bar, minus the actual cigarettes. They weren’t needed though, her husky voice and the organized chaos of her tunes transports you there. It’s also very Montreal, maybe best to describe it as that magical meeting of Old Montreal, the troubadour singer-storyteller and a hip little big band playing the corner bistro. She’s heading into the studio (Montreal’s Hotel2tango) to record these pieces, but I feel like this material would sound great recorded live with the atmospheric noises of glasses clinking, audience chatter, the occasional laugh and applause.
Her second set featured more understandable lyrics and I could hear what has been described as her “angry francophone” songs. I’m not sure I heard angry though so much as sassy, frank words about some unpleasant realities, like a friends’ nasty apartment, what folks look forward to on government cheque day, living on welfare, and a soothing bit reminding one to breathe to relieve their anxiety. So in a way, her lyrics are contemporary folk-like, just set to very different tunes. I chuckled.
I liked a lot of what I heard, but didn’t love it all. Some of the songs sounded a bit too erratic and uncoordinated, thankfully these were mostly very short. My preference and recommendation to others would be to see her live with good sound engineering, if not live, I think I would enjoy these particular songs most as ambient music. The kind of thing where you could be reading in a coffee shop and catch yourself tapping your foot along, then saying to yourself, hey that was catchy, who was that? Or as part of a Songza playlist, “It’s Saturday night, I’ve poured the whiskey and put the record player on”.
The sound in the video doesn’t do her justice, it doesn’t come across as balanced as it was to hear in person. If you like what you hear, have a listen to her previous recordings (Canelle) to tide you over. I really enjoyed listening to it while writing this.
Having been lucky enough to hear these compositions before they’ve been recorded, it will be really interesting to hear their transformation with more instruments and a polished sound when the album is made.