Portraits & Perfumes review by Gerard Rejskind

This is Anne Bisson’s second recording, if you omit one she made a number years back. She is best known in Quebec as a television host. Though she s francophone, she writes and sings in English. The earlier album, Blue Mind, was filled with her own songs. Except for the frothy September in Montreal, those songs were serious, sometimes heavy, with Bisson’s emotional voice delivering all of their weight.

This album, as it’s title suggests, is a lot lighter. Though the first disc was done with the Quebec audiophile label Fidelio, this one is on her own label, with the marketing done by the juggernaut, Universal Music. Universal suggested she make the disc more commercial by including some standards. She did, though the results are uneven. The Nearness of You and Jobim’s How Insensitive are both gorgeous, but are ill-suited to Bisson’s emotionally-charged voice. So is another standard, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, which opens a cappella. That’s risky, and the risk doesn’t quite pay off. With a Little Help From My Friends works much better. She sings it at a much slower tempo than Paul McCartney does, but she does it justice, and I was amused by the accompaniment, which closely evokes that of the Beatles themselves.

Still, it is her own songs that are worth waiting for. Ripples is a delightful slow ballad, with only Bisson’s solo piano, without the strings and synths of some other songs. The same is true of My Little Boy, which is a love song despite the title. What’s Wrong With me is a lively big band swing tune, and it is a showstopper. Also terrific is I Like You Too, borrowed from an album that Julie Lebon did two decades ago (with music be Guy St-Onge). It’s great fun, with a plot twist I wouldn’t dare give away. Looking down the list, she has perhaps six keepers out of the dozen, and that as you know is way better than average.

Let me mention Guy St-Onge again, since it is evident that without this recording would not exist. He is Anne’s mentor, arranger, co-producer, and a lot more. There are few instruments Guy can’t play with supreme virtuosity. On Roger Water’s Us and Them he plays piano, bass, drums, percussion, celesta, vibraphone, accordion, barrel organ, chimes and synths. No at the same time, I would assume, and so thank goodness for multi tracking.

The recording exists in both CD and LP form, and they are not of equal quality. In the case of Blue Mind, the LP sounded wonderful,whereas the CD was dull and unfocused. I thought Fidelio should have refused it. This time it’s the reverse. The CD sounds terrific (besides, it has three more songs on it), and it’s the LP that left me wanting.

Anne Bisson says that her recordings are a hit in Asia as well as North America, and I’m not surprised. There seems to be dozens of pretty female Asian singers with good elocution, but who don’t appear to have any clue what they are singing. Anne Bisson knows exactly what she’s singing. For a start, she wrote a lot of it. Pick up Blue Mind too, on vinyl if you can.