BY BLAIR JACKSON | FROM THE SPRING 2023 ISSUE OF UKULELE
The curiously named ukulele-driven French duo Jane for Tea—Séverine Lescure and Jean-Pierre Pichon—has been playing a fascinating and sophisticated fusion of pop, vintage, and international sounds all over France (as well as in England, Spain, Romania, Germany, and Finland) for around a decade. This impressive second full-length album, Chaque Seconde (“Each Second”), comes eight years after the Toulouse pair’s charming self-titled debut, and it shows much maturation in every aspect of their sound, from the songwriting to the impeccably layered vocal and instrumental arrangements to the pristine and remarkably uncluttered mixing (by Stéphane Piquemal).
Jane for Tea, Chaque Seconde (Self-released)
Lescure is the featured chanteuse throughout, her parts often doubled, tripled, and more, and sometimes in harmony with Pichon’s appealing voice. She also plays banjolele on some songs. Pichon is the true musical mastermind of the duo, contributing vocals, multiple ukulele parts (prominent throughout the album), as well as drums/percussion, bass, a vintage Suzuki Omnichord (sometimes utilized to create “string” and “horn” parts), and programming. Their arsenal of ukuleles includes a Tahitian ukulele, vintage Harmony baritone, koa Lanikai tenor, vintage George Formby banjolele, modern Gold Tone banjolele, vintage Gibson banjolele, and a vintage Kamaka soprano pineapple. The different timbres of the ukes are artfully blended in the mix to create a rich, warm sound that sits beautifully under the vocal layering.
The songs—mainly in French, but there are a few in English or a combination of French and English—cover a broad range of styles. “Je Laisse Passer” (“I Let Go”) has an old-time French music hall vibe, with guitar-like baritone uke strumming complemented by plinking banjo uke and guest Florian Saubois’ oom-pah sousaphone. Featuring stacked vocals, Chinese yangqin, and the dulcimer-like Seagull Guitars Merlin, “Taïma” has an exotic alt-folk feeling.
The moody and sensual “Black Lake,” the purest vocal duet on the album, sounds like it could be on the soundtrack of a contemporary film noir. “Tout Comme Les Filles” (“Just Like the Girls”) is the sort of breezy, slightly jazzy confection that would be right at home in a sunny beach movie set in Saint-Tropez in the mid-’60s. The peppy and catchy “Dis Moi Pourquois” (“Tell Me Why”; it was the album’s first single) has Pichon delving into bal-musette territory, with baritone uke strums and Erick Halter’s standup bass supporting a flowing, accordion-ish Omnichord part beneath Lescure’s vocal line. Both that song and “Gibbon” evidently have some Django Reinhardt in their DNA.
There are so many little elements that contribute to the album’s overall depth—the Miles-ish muted trumpet (Omnichord?) on the title track; the judicious use of echo/reverb on the vocals and the cheery sound of children on a playground on “Rue Des Jardins”; the organ and “flute” on “Tout Comme Les Filles”; the catchy uke arpeggio line running through “Nowhere.”
There’s a lot going on here, but it’s all so tastefully constructed it never feels busy or overblown. From a ukulele perspective, the album really shows what a colorful and complementary tool the instrument can be when it is imaginatively employed.
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