Montréal-based Québécois singer Myriam Gendron first came onto our radar last year with her mellow album of minimalist folk songs. She has a lovely singing voice akin to the great 70s folk revivalists: not shimmery with vibrato, but cool, clear and open as a flowing creek. What makes her album, Not So Deep A Well, different is that it's a compendium of poems from the great American poet Dorothy Parker set to music. We've seen some great recent albums of famous poems set to music, like Layla McCalla's Langston Hughes album, but I feel like that was a bit easier as Hughes was so hugely influenced by jazz and American music. His poems have musical qualities that aren't hard to bring out. Parker is more of a formal poet, known for her wit and careful construction. She actually came out of art criticism, as a theater critic for Vanity Fair in the 1920s, so she's close to my heart for that. Parker had a tumultuous life at the forefront of the great American 20th century, rolling around in some pretty fascinating circles (The Hollywood Anti-Nazi League for example) and was blacklisted as a Communist during McCarthyism. When she died, she left her full estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, though it's now with the NAACP. Pretty amazing woman and a wonderful poet as well!
Gendron's settings of Parker's poems take them out of the flapper Jazz Age and into the stripped-back threnody of the American and British folk revivals. With finger-picked guitar, and a a huge amount of heart in her nearly deadpan vocals, the words of Parker really come to the fore. It's a miraculous little album, beguiling in its simplicity and open-hearted in its selfless focus on Parker's poetry. I'm very much looking forward to Gendron's next album and I wonder where she'll go next.
For KITHFOLK, our friends at Gendron's record label, Mama Bird Recording Co., sent us along a new track that wasn't on the original album. It's a new song and actually one of my favorites of Parker's poems that Gendron has covered: "Bric-À-Brac".
Here's what Myriam Gendron has to say about why she likes this poem:
"Bric-à-brac" is a very simple, bittersweet poem about arts and crafts. But more importantly, it's a poem about loneliness as a driving force for creation. We're still very attracted to this romantic idea that artists are driven by some sort of genius inspiration, and I like this poem because it shows a different perspective on things, one I can absolutely relate to. I would never have spent so much time with my guitar if I hadn't felt lonely. I also love the fact that Dorothy Parker, in the last verse, puts her writing – and therefore literature – in the arts and crafts category. It's so honest and true: all artists are craftsmen."
PURCHASE the Album from Mama Bird Recording Co.
(the two new tracks, one of which is "Bric-À-Brac" are only available via physical copies)