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French Music Savant Benjamin Biolay

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From time to time we hear about new music from deejay and film music supervisor Chris Douridas. He's back now with us in our studios.

And, Chris, you have a knack for finding unique music that most of us have never heard of before. And I understand you happened upon another extraordinary musician. Who is this person?

CHRIS DOURIDAS reporting:

This guy's called Benjamin Biolay. He's actually been around for quite a while. I guess I became aware of him through his writing and production work for Keren Ann. She's an Israeli-born French singer whose music's been released here in the States. And once her stuff came out, I started exploring his other projects. And it turns out he's had four of his own releases with his own music and his own voice out in France. The first of those records earned him a best new artist award in what is the French equivalent of the Grammys. And this album explores two of his great fascinations: American politics and the Kennedy legacy. The album's called "Rose Kennedy." And it's funny 'cause he's writing it from the point of view of the Kennedy matriarch.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. BENJAMIN BIOLAY: (Singing in French)

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all...

Mr. BIOLAY: (Singing in French)

DOURIDAS: Obviously, he samples the speeches of JFK. There's actually a sample of Marilyn Monroe singing on this album as well.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. MARILYN MONROE: (Singing) There is a river called the river of no return...

BRAND: Well, that's really interesting, hearing Marilyn Monroe sing on a French album. You say this album is pretty much about an obsession with American politics, but it's all in French. Do you understand what he's singing?

DOURIDAS: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: The short word. No.

DOURIDAS: No, I don't.

BRAND: So it's not the lyrics, per se, that have attracted you to this music. What has?

DOURIDAS: I guess, you know, I'm a big fan of the late French singer Serge Gainsbourg. And while Biolay's getting tired of being compared to him constantly, his albums are conjuring up a similar fan base, I think. Like Gainsbourg, Biolay's music owes more to American styles than French. His production is contemporary, yet it's got a timeless quality to it, and he frequently reels in these breathy, sensual female companions to flesh out his sound the way Gainsbourg did with Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin. And actually a few years ago, Biolay married Chiara Mastroianni, the daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni, and together they recorded an album of duets called "Home." And this album tells the story of an imaginary road trip across America. This one here is about driving through Arizona.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. BIOLAY and Ms. CHIARA MASTROIANNI: (Singing in unison in French)

BRAND: So that's Benjamin Biolay and his wife, Chiara Mastroianni. And she sounds really good. She sounds like she's also a great singer.

DOURIDAS: Yeah, you know, it's funny because she was never really a singer except in the shower. And apparently it was at Biolay's urging that got her into the studio to do this record. He's also become a bit of a curator of French music icons. He's written for and produced songs for Francois Hardy, Jane Birkin and Henri Salvador, who's, I guess, in his late 80s now. And he was a crooner from the '30s whose comeback album, with the help of Biolay, became a sensation in France.

BRAND: So is he just a nostalgia act or is there something else going on here?

DOURIDAS: No, I think his music is also very forward-leaning. He takes the classic French chanson style, I guess, and he pulls it into the future. He adds electronics to it, other studio tricks to give it a very contemporary feel. I think it's probably best evident in probably my favorite song from all of his projects. It came from his 2003 release called "Negatif." And on this, he samples a 1928 country song from the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. The song is called "Lil' Darlin'."

(Soundbite of song)

CARTER FAMILY: (Singing) Lil' darling, oh, how I love you. And I love you darling...

Mr. BIOLAY: (Singing in French)

BRAND: He definitely has that sensual, throaty, French je ne sais quoi.

DOURIDAS: Yeah. I mean, even if you don't really know what he's saying, you know, the emotion is there and the beauty is there. It's very sexy stuff, I think.

(Soundbite of song)

CARTER FAMILY: (Singing) Little darling, how I love...

BRAND: So if we want to get more of this sexy stuff, where do we get it?

DOURIDAS: Well, several of his records, I know, are available on iTunes. And you can dig around on the import bins at the better record stores. If all else fails, check out Amazon.

BRAND: Chris Douridas is a deejay at member station KRW and a music supervisor for films. His latest project is the upcoming Rob Reiner comedy "Rumor Has It..."

Merci beaucoup.

DOURIDAS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song)

CARTER FAMILY: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible). Little darling, how I love. My little darling, oh, how I love you. How I love you. And I can tell in your heart you love another. Little darling love of mine.

BRAND: More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.