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Various Artists: A Tribute to Edith Piaf

Yes, Edith Piaf was as quintessentially French as Brie, Bardot and Henri Cartier-Bresson. But her influence and appeal knew no borders. So it is entirely appropriate that this tribute, captured live at Montreux in July 2004, calls upon an international assortment of guest stars, the 80-minute program neatly divided to provide each with a two- or three-song slice.

First up is Swiss vocalist Michael von der Heide, whose fragile, Sting-esque countenance is ideally suited to the hymn “Mon Dieu” and the softly romantic “Amants d’un Jour.” Ute Lemper arrives next, looking and sounding more gorgeous than ever and raising the heat on three numbers, including a rousing “L’Accordéoniste.” Another legendary French chanteuse, Régine, takes over, coming closest to replicating Piaf’s earthy joie de vivre and survivalist vigor on “Padam, Padam” and “Mon Manège à Moi.” The evening’s lone American, the mighty Michiganite Barbara Morrison, gets just one number, “Autumn Leaves” (originally introduced in 1946 by Yves Montand as “Les Feuilles Mortes,” but first sung in English, with Johnny Mercer’s lyric, by Piaf). The evening’s second Frenchwoman, perennially sexy Catherine Ringer, basks in Piaf’s incandescent torchiness, but more closely recalls the little sparrow’s great friend Marlene Dietrich on “C’est à Hambourg,” “La Fille et le Chien” and the beer-hall favorite “La Goualante du Pauvre Jean.” Benin’s sublime Angélique Kidjo completes the roster before all six guests gather for a stand-up-and-cheer rendition of “La Vie en Rose.” Though “Rose” is as closely associated with Piaf as, say, “Over the Rainbow” is inseparable from Judy Garland, and though it’s delightful to see so fine an assemblage of global talent united onstage, the evening’s true highlight is Kidjo’s towering interpretation of “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien,” the song I’d argue best captures the gutsy, scrappy Piaf.

And, exceptional as the glittering parade of guests is, it is two young players, pianist and musical director Baptiste Trotignon and bassist Rémi Vignolo (neither old enough to be on this planet when Piaf exited it in 1963), plus drummer André Ceccarelli and accordionist Marc Berthoumieux (a proper Piaf salute would hardly be possible without an accordion) that form the evening’s backbone and are its true heart and soul.

Originally Published