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French Rocker CharlElie Couture is America's Best Kept Secret: Oregon Coast Reviews

Published 04/11/2020 at 11:04 PM PDT
By Andre' GW Hagestedt

French Rocker CharlElie Couture is America's Best Kept Secret: Oregon Coast Reviews

(Portland, Oregon) – Since the Oregon coast is currently shut down we launch a new series for those stuck at home to find new forms of entertainment.

He’s without a doubt the best kept musical secret of the United States, and it’s horrifying this country doesn’t acknowledge him. Sure, he sings almost entirely in French and he’s a big rock star in many French-speaking countries, but since he’s moved to the U.S. it’s only a small (but growing) cadre of musicians in his now-home of New York that know of him.

Charlelie Couture (often going by CharlElie) is an enigmatic musical figure, a sort of Superman of vast genres: able to leap a musical category in a single bound. The enormous stylistic variety of his work since 1980 is dizzying, absolutely defying any definition. One minute it’s quirky and jazzy pop in a jagged sort of way, like a mix of Tom Waits and Randy Newman. Another moment he’s sleek and almost futuristic (even some forays into electronica), then downhome and bluesy, off-kilter funk, weirdo folk / Americana, rap, to oddball takes on R&B / soul and even intensely lush, romantic ballads that put Bryan Ferry to shame.

It’s a wild musical landscape he’s created over the years, with just about every song on every album feeling completely different than the next, sometimes seeming to invent new genres on the spot – and yet it all feels like Couture. You could think of him as a kind of Neil Young from France, with that same sense of quirkiness and iconic, downright brilliance, with a similar drive to constantly expand into new places. Even that, however, doesn’t do him justice. He’s like Roxy Music, Brian Eno, Dire Straits, Randy Newman, Neil Young, Ray Charles, Talking Heads, Tom Waits and maybe even Peter Gabriel all rolled into one. And more.

Couture has described himself as a polymorphic artist, now dividing his time equally between the visual arts, writing and music – as well as owning a gallery in NYC and a badass shoe company. His music is poly – well, poly everything. It’s World Music in a sense, but even that’s limiting. Meanwhile, the tunes are nothing short of mesmerizing on a consistent basis.

He started all this in ‘80 with a mega hit overseas called “Comme un Avion Sans Aile” (Plane without Wings), a heartbreaking but slightly oddball ballad that’s part soul, part jazz and part rock ‘n roll, as if Newman and Ray Charles had gotten together in France and were produced by Tom Waits. From there, Charlelie Couture sauntered through the ‘80s making slick, seamless rock and funk that borrowed from reggae, African, old French folk tunes as well as soul, managing always to be heady and slightly experimental but still catchy and emotive.

He capped off and summarized the decade with a stunning live album, Trois Folie Live, which sadly has disappeared as it’s arguably among his very best. It showed Couture in astounding form, breathing intense new life into songs that were already vibrant and hypnotizing, including the ultra romantic, gooey and frisson-inducing “Aime Moi Encore Au Moins.”

It was in 1987 that he was introduced to American audiences in the Alan Rudolph movie “The Moderns,” set in that mystical, wondrous scene of Paris in the 1920s. There, he performed an unconventional little jazz-like tune or two and had a minor role in the flick. It was the end of the movie that provided the real treat, however. During the credits he sang a very modern, electronic version of the insanely beautiful 1920s song “Parlez Moi D’Amour,” backed up by electronic whiz Mark Isham (who now mostly does soundtracks), as well as former members of Zappa’s band and Missing Persons: Peter Maunu, Terry Bozzio and Patrick O’Hearn. Patrick actually has some connections to the Oregon coast with a promotional video put out by Yachats 25 years ago that featured his music, and he’s a former Portlander.

That same lineup comprised the seminal minimalist Prog band Group 87 several years before. Exceptionally cool stuff.

As the ‘90s rolled around, Couture had ventured off to Australia where he made two albums highly influenced by those surroundings. There, he got more bluesy – but not all the time, of course. There was heaps of steel slide guitar, evoking Dire Straits and Newman, but with his trademark surrealism branded all over it. Some of those often felt like a softer Zappa, with Couture’s lower register vocals making you think of the Prog/jazzer at times.

By the turn of the millennium, Couture had spent considerable time in Chicago and went a much bluesier, grittier route. Though that didn’t stop him from venturing into EDM territory in the midst of that, with “Elle Danse Pour Oublier” sounding more like School of Seven Bells than the French master.

Since about 2004 he’s been in New York (where he is as of this writing suffering greatly from COVID). Far into middle age by then, he kept branching out in startling ways with arguably some of his best albums, like 109 and the brilliantly-titled, cross-linguistic pun of New YorCour (Le Cour being the word for heart in French). The vast majority of rock artists at that age, no matter much new material they put out, usually wane in musical urgency and creative vitality, but here he soared with startling experiments of various genres and tunes that were just plain unforgettable (even if you didn’t understand the lyrics).

One of his latest, Fort Rêveur (get the cross language pun again?) was mixed here in Portland by the always adept Sean Flora.

Couture's music is so broad that no matter what you're into, you're going to find something you like. It's best to rummage through his YouTube channel, see the Charlelie Couture official website and go buy his stuff on Amazon and the usual download places.

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