Recently released in France is NEW YORKER (Mercury, 2009, 532 279 8 – www.huguesaufray.com), the third album of Dylan covers by the veteran French singer Hugues Aufray (the previous two are AUFRAY CHANTE DYLAN, a single album from 1965, and AUFRAY TRANS DYLAN from 1995, a double CD featuring re-recordings of the 1965 songs plus new material).
This time too, Aufray has for the most part chosen the re-recording route, but introducing a new element in the form of duets, with well-known singers, French or France-resident (or in one case, a trio). The songs are, as before, in Hugues Aufray’s own French-language adaptations. The album consists of 13 tracks, of which the opener, ‘New Yorker’, is a prose narrative by Aufray himself, the closing track, ‘Cloches sonnez’ (‘Ring Them Bells’), features Aufray solo, while of the rest the trio is ‘Nous serons libres’ (‘I shall be releaesd’), with Pep’s and Wasis Diop, and the remaining 10 are duets. Of the 12 songs proper, 10 have already appeared in French translation on AUFRAY TRANS DYLAN (one of them on AUFRAY CHANTE DYLAN too), the ‘new’ songs being the above-mentioned ‘Cloches sonnez’ and ‘Tout comme une vraie femme’ (‘Just Like a Woman’, with Jane Birkin). Of the remaining 9, ‘Au coeur de mon pays’ (‘Heartland’, with Arno) is only dubiously by Dylan, who is generally believed to have confined himself to contributing the music for Willie Nelson’s words for that song, on which the two duetted on the latter’s 1993 album ACROSS THE BORDERLINE.
The remaining 8 are: ‘La fille du nord’ (‘Girl from the north country’), with Eddy Mitchell (this is the song that features on all three Aufray albums); ‘N’y pense plus, tout est bien’ (‘Don’t think twice, it’s all right’), with Carla Bruni); ‘Mr l’homme orchestre’ (‘Mr Tambourine Man’), with Laurent Voulzy; ‘Knock Knock, ouvre-toi porte du ciel’ (‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s door’; retitled from 1995’s ‘Knock-Knock ouvre-toi porte d’or’), with Bernard Lavilliers; ‘L’homme dota d’un nom chaque animal’ (‘Man gave names to all the animals’), with Alain Souchon; ‘Tout l’monde un jour s’est planté’ (‘Rainy Day Women Nos. 12 and 35’), with Didier Wampas; ‘Dans le souffle du vent’ (‘Blowin’ in the wind’), with Francis Cabrel; and ‘Jeune pour toujours’ (‘Forever young’), with Johnny Hallyday. Some of the songs have snatches of English, notably Birkin’s contribution to ‘Just like a woman’.
An ‘authentic’ feel is given to the album by the participation of American musicians associated with Bob Dylan himself, including Charlie McCoy, Larry Campbell and David Hidalgo.
The packaging includes the full text of Aufray’s French adaptations, plus brief texts by Aufray himself and … Bob Dylan, who reminisces on times passed with Hugues Aufray in Paris (‘Hugues introduced me to all the sights: the Bastille, the Cathedral at Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe … He showed me where Marat had lived and Robespierre … I told him that if he came to New York, I would show him where Alexander Hamilton and Poe lived’).
The general quality of the interpretations is high: Aufray has lavished care on this recording. A question mark hovers over Carla Bruni’s presence: she sings beautifully on ‘Don’t think twice’, but what would the Dylan of 1965 have said about a song of his being performed by the French president’s wife? I only ask ….