Pomme Est Ma Nouvelle Musique Préférée
I freely admit that I used Bing’s Translate function for the title. The French I have left from high school is not good enough for me to write a good title in French. I attribute my lack of language skills to one of the failures of American culture – our parochialism. American culture has become so dominant in entertainment that you rarely need to understand anyone else’s language or culture. The music industry especially, rewards English language artists so much, that artists who create music in other language are rarely heard outside of their native lands. Even European artists as Kraftwerk and Falco (Germany), Aurora (Norway), First Aid Kit and The Hives (Sweden) and Bjork (Iceland), only gained fame and fortune once they created English language songs. The major exception to this is Spanish language music. Thankfully, we have so many Spanish speakers here that music from Spanish speaking cultures, especially Latin America, find a way into our playlists. Otherwise, most of what we hear in the U.S. comes from the American music scene with Canada, the U.K., Ireland, and Australia making up the bulk of bands that are not American. This is frustrating for music lovers. We miss so much great music just because it’s not in English.
English language parochialism is why I almost missed out on Claire Pommet, a.k.a. Pomme. If it weren’t her duet on the new Aurora album, I would never have heard of her. While Aurora chooses to sing in English, and reap the rewards of the American music industry, Pomme sings in French. I can only imagine her singing in French; It’s a core part of her musical expression. Pomme’s music is deeply rooted in nouvelle chanson, a French music style whose roots go back to medieval France. When Americans think of French music, this is what comes to mind. To this French base, Pomme adds American folk music and a bit of indie pop and even sadcore. This yields a style that is both very French and very American at the same time. It’s as if Serge Gainsbourg had a musical baby with Suzanne Vega and Amber Rubarth delivered it.
Some of Pomme’s music is straight up nouvelle chanson. Other songs sound like pure Americana, only in French. “Adieu Mon Homme” is so strongly Americana that it could be an Avett Brothers song. Most songs, however, are a combination of styles that is unique to Pomme. Pomme sounds like herself and only herself. While you can pick out elements of other styles, her mélange is more than the sum of those styles.
In addition to great songwriting, Pomme also has a lovely voice. Unlike many folk singers, whose vocals can be a bit rough, she has a pure soprano voice. Her singing is also never twee, which many indie folk and pop singers are. Subsequently, she has the voice of a mature, well-trained folk singer, much like Alison Krauss or Gillian Welch . She is in the same class as Mary Travers of Peter, Paul, and Mary. Her voice is not the high soprano of Joan Baez but also not the deeper voice of Tracy Chapman. Pomme can be breathy, but that is always in service to the song, especially the nouvelle chanson style songs. These songs favor a little more smokey reverb than American folk.
Her songs are often the sweet folk I remember from my childhood. I grew up with Irish and American folk music, especially Joan Baez and Pete Seeger. Even their protest songs had a soft edge that touched your heart. Pomme is like this too. I only wish I could understand enough of the lyrics to get the full meaning. Such is the strength of her songwriting that I can feel the emotion even when I don’t know the words.
Pomme’s music is thoroughly French and yet, completely American folk. It’s a special songwriting style backed by a great voice. It’s criminal that she’s barely known in the U.S. We can change all that by listening to her music right now.