baptiste w hamon
Last night I had a wonderful brief break from the usual whatever to go and listen to a friend, Baptiste Hamon, play a short show at a bar called the Red House, not far from the Bastille in Paris. I have mentioned Baptiste over the last couple of years occasionally on this blog under the name usually of his band Texas in Paris
. Baptiste writes cool, Dylan-like, Guthrie-like, Townes Van Zandt-like songs with sober, sombre lyrics and strong emotion mixed with a highly distinctive voice and delivery. Last night I was invited to attend the launch concert for his cassette of new songs – yes cassette, tape cassette! – and what I found was a wonderful, interesting surprise. Baptiste has grown as an artist.
The launch was for a cassette he has put out on a very small independent label in France called Midnight Special Records. There was another singer at the Red House bar too, but I came in just as she sang her final words. So I missed that. But Baptiste went up as soon as I arrived so I caught his whole set. Suddenly, as I was being served a beer at the bar, I heard Baptiste singing in French. Wow! Before I had a chance to take the beer I whipped out my Zoom Q3HD recorder and began to shoot the song, since I thought it was a rare and unusual chance to catch Baptiste singing in French. Turned out I was wrong. During his set of six or so songs, Baptiste sang only one in English.
The rest were a new crop of songs he has written in the last few months, and they were a fabulous surprise. Basically, to try to sum it up, Baptiste writes excellent poetic songs in English. And he is far from the only non-native English speaker to do that. It is happening all over the world. But how much of the stuff really breaks out? The Tallest Man on Earth from Sweden is similar. Abba, not at all. Bands from all over the world try English. It just never seems to take off or doing anything much of importance, no matter how good it is.
But what I found Baptiste doing last night was to do EXACTLY what he has always done in English, but to do it in French. And that brought out even more originality in what is already an original writing and sound. Baptiste continues to sing about the U.S. dream he lives and follows, but he does it in a non-fake sentimental way and in his own language. There he was singing a ballad to Townes Van Zandt, for God’s sake.
Apparently the French think he has changed his style, and sounds closer to something like Jacques Brel or some other classic French singers. But for me this is the same Baptiste, he’s just finding more precision in what he sings, and its a step closer to who he really is than what was already something very fine before. Oh, and with these songs he is no longer calling himself Texas in Paris, but simply Baptiste W. Hamon….