MARIANNE DISSARD at the Dakota Tavern (249 Ossington), Sunday (January 18), 7 pm. $10 (admits two). 416-850-4579.
Since Calexico's Joey Burns and John Convertino began earning extra money as a rhythm section for hire, they've proven to be a versatile unit. Yet cutting an old-school French chanson album seems like a bit of a stretch, even with a ringer like Marianne Dissard talk-singing and writing songs in her native French.
There are times on her enchanting Burns-produced debut album, L'Entredeux, when it sounds like Dissard is seductively whispering over 45-year-old backing tracks made with Jacques Brel or Georges Brassens in mind. Unless you peeked at the production credits, you'd never guess that Calexico members were involved. According to Dissard, who made a noteworthy cameo on Calexico's Ballad Of Cable Hogue, that was the plan.
"Joey approached French chanson like he does Mexican mariachi music with Calexico," explains Dissard from her Tucson home. "He's not trying to copy mariachi or recreate it, but instead uses elements from it in a mix with his many other influences to create something new.
"The album we made fits in with this larger trend of younger American musicians trying to connect with their imaginary European musical heritage, like Beirut or Alaska in Winter from Albuquerque picking up some Balkan instruments and going for something more exotic."
Because Dissard's L'Entredeux is so deeply entrenched in the classic chanson style, you might naturally assume that the album has been critically praised from Paris to the Pyrenees. Nope.
"When the album was released in France, I got quite a few positive reviews, but some critics had a problem hearing what I was singing. Nouvelle chanson is all about having the voice up front in the mix, whereas my album was mixed by someone who works with Calexico, where the vocals are not the main focus - they're just another instrument."
As it turns out, singing in French has been an asset in Arizona.
"People here in Tucson have been very receptive. Because I know that I don't always have to remember the lyrics, I've gotten into some strange performing habits where I'll sometimes ad lib stuff on the spot or repeat parts of the song, and no one ever complains. It's great!"
Marianne Dissard explains how her longtime connection with the Giant Sand clique began completely by chance in a Phoenix bar.
Evidently Dissard played a larger role in Calexico's breakout success with their Ballad Of Cable Hogue single than most people realize.