The immersive wonder of Emmanuelle Parrenin’s unsung 1977 French folk gem ‘Maison Rose’

Written By: 
Randall Roberts
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Featuring hurdy-gurdy, harp, voice, and Bruno Menny’s arrangements.

In 1977, when much of Western music culture was being upended by both the distorted aggression of the global punk rock explosion and the revelrous rhythmic freedom found in discotheques, a small French label called Ballon Noir released a meditative album recorded in a retrofitted farmhouse outside of Frontmental, Normandy. The record was driven by a combination of harp, hurdy-gurdy, and voice, and was as delicate as the Ramones were loud, as pensive as the Bee Gees were exuberant.

As with all timeless recordings, that album, Emmanuelle Parrenin’s Maison Rose, gradually found its audience, albeit small, despite the noise permeating the music world at the time. Forty-five years later, the Paris-based label Soufflé Continu – “Treasures of the French Underground since 2014” – is further amplifying Parrenin’s revelatory album through a new reissue. To start, you should go ahead and check out “Topaze” to get one angle on Parrenin’s approach:




But then after you sample that, move to “Ballad Avec Neptune,” which exudes a whole other vibe:




In between those polarities reside a dozen other pieces that range in length from one to six minutes and in breadth from here to infinity. Press notes namecheck Vashti Bunyan, Linda Perhacs, Shirley Collins, and Véronique Chalot; we’d also add the buoyant experimentation of Coco Rosie and the understated power of Jessica Pratt.

Producer Jacques Denjean, whose deep resume includes work with Dionne Warwick, Nana Mouskouri, Crystal Glass, and Françoise Hardy, led the sessions; Parrenin’s creative partner, audio engineer and arranger Bruno Menny, added a third dimension.

Release notes issued by Souffle Continu describe a creative communion, what they call “this fusion between the two conceptions of Emmanuelle Parrenin and Bruno Menny. Parrenin was a song gatherer in rural areas, in a similar vein to the work carried out by Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins. Menny, experimental by nature, arranged and recorded the album.”

The singer-musician was aided in the studio by guitarist Denis Gasser; she sang lyrics by Jean-Claude Vannier (who wrote for Jane Birkin, Serge Gainsbourg, Michael Legrand, and hundreds more).

And so on … The above footnotes, details and credits, while crucial, hardly amount to much once you put stylus to record, ease up the volume, tune out the noise, and focus on the recording, the songs, the universal spirit, and the general whoa-ness of discovering Parrenin’s masterpiece for the first time.

The bad news? Vinyl copies of Soufflé Continu’s Maison Rose reissue are limited and vanishing fast. The good? We’ve secured copies available here: https://insheepsclothinghifi.com/product/emmanuelle-parrenin-%e2%80%8e-maison-rose-lp-7/

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