Writing albums is unfortunately somewhat of a lost art in the modern musical era; at least, that’s what I thought until my ears caught a listen of St. Paul de Vence’s debut album. The story of Benjamin Doerr’s French grandfather in World War II provides the basis for an absolutely stunning album. The combination of brilliant acoustic folk and history is breathtaking.
As cohesive and connected as the album is, what makes it great is its variety. The album utilized the variety of flavors provided by traditional European music and clearly fused with American artists and stylings. This is a truly remarkable album. Everything from accordions to what sounds like a ukulele, the album mixes languages, sounds, and themes to paint a gorgeous image of the 20th century’s most horrific moment.
It is difficult to write on the “highlights” of this album since it’s all so good. The vocal blending is top notch, present on the very European styled “Pink Wine.” The song from start to finish, particularly the parts in French, transports the listener to both a different time and a different culture. It’s beautiful and sets the tone for much of the album.
The song that actually led me to SPDV was “Hummingbird, Heron, and Honeybee” and the recording version gives me chills. I know that’s probably not the professional sounding commentary one might expect from a site like this, but honestly the combination of minimalist folk and stunning vocals makes for those “good kind of chills.” The lyrics aren’t terribly complex, largely sporting a repetitive “fly over me” refrain… but those words mixed with the melody of the song and the vocal blending… is truly, in a word, “transcendent.” This song immediately went on my top songs of 2012 list.
The aching vocal on “Leaving” is heart-wrenching in the way one might expect a song about “leaving.” But, at a deeper level, it’s evident how it fits into the storyline of the album of the soldier leaving. It’s an introspective and deeply fascinating soul reflection, as one might suspect a soldier to have while leaving all that was familiar about home. It is relational and personal. Musically, it is a solid folk blend of banjo and guitar with more stunning vocals.
“When Our Boys Have Been Buried” is a remarkable song. It’s about the end of the war, but it’s also about the cost of war in a raw way. “It’s quiet… laid down their weapons and gone home… but our pain fills this silence.” The sound is a bit more lofted and light, but it has such a harsh and painful message. The junxtaposition of sound and message really makes the song click. This is the kind of song that is a work of art in multiple ways. It is evident that these artists really feel this song.
“Cherbourg to New York Harbor” will touch the hearts of many Americans who have a direct connection to immigrants. Although it’s an accordion instrumental, it is a deeply moving piece. The final song on the album, “Go” is a perfect storytelling song about embarking to live life. It’s the clear post-war message, “go to where you’ll find her.” It is the blessing of bygone generations for us (or so I interpret) to live life to its fullest and seek love. It, again, is a fantastic song. “She will shine through the rest of your life…”
The connection between modern day musicians and a past generation of fighters is powerful throughout this album. Honestly, I kept thinking throughout the album, “how can they ever top this?” It will be a frequent listen for many, many avid folk music fans. We highly recommend that you stop what you’re doing and give it a listen right now. Start to finish. Love it.