A quick listen to this revealed some credible Dylan covers, played nicely, good sound and all sung in French. I do wonder how some of the Dylanesque wordplay and rhyming translates into French, but Aufray’s choice to cover some of the lesser known, but still great songs from Freewheelin’ and Another Side Of, makes this an entertaining listen. For the most part he plays it straight; musically and vocally they are quite close to the original, except (unless you are au fait en Francais) you get the added bonus of hearing the lyrics without understanding a word. See also my Serge Kerval review for more Dylan-in-French. Overall, hearing Aufray Chante Dylan was a pleasant surprise. Must be time to roll ze review Alan.
La Fille Du Nord (Girl From The North Country)… love this song, love the lyrics, love the melody, love the duet with Johnny Cash on Nashville Skyline, and I love Aufray’s cover of it. Melodically, guitar-wise it’s almost identical to Dylan’s but someone’s gone and thrown a big orchestral string sweep over it. I don’t mind that. The song’s melody sort of invites that. Aufray’s voice and singing is good, just a bit rough round the edges, deep and plangent on the low notes, searching in all the right places. The strings die out, and he finishes the song off. Brilliant way to open.
Ce Que Je Veux Surtout (All I Really Want To Do)… exposes the melody in a way that I’d not experienced on Dylan’s version. I think that’s because the lyrics are such a standout on the original, I always enjoy listening to the wordplay. Here, all I can hear is a voice singing the basic melody, je ne, jenais se voux…or whatever it is, I’ve no idea. Sometimes it’s fun to imagine it’s a guy who knows no French at all, a satire, just making up random-sounding French words. The song’s tune really does just seesaw up and down all the way through—I’d never really noticed that before. But again, it’s not a song I’d expect to hear covered, because the lyrics seem so personal to Dylan; “All I really want to do / Is baby be friends with you.” It’s short and sweet.
Ce N’Était Pas Moi (It Ain’t Me Babe)… hauls the strings out from the hall closet again, dusts ‘em off and hangs ‘em up over the song like stage curtains. It’s a bit on the sappy side, and Aufray’s singing here doesn’t help that—he’s more close-mic’ed here, more intimate, more romantic French-lover, as if he’s trying on a pick up line rather than the song’s won’t-be-seeing-you-again. Pretty melody and guitar though.
Oxford Town… great skiffle sound on this one. Very 60s sounding, tambourine, harmonica. Eee la la. Yet again, hearing the songs without knowing the words puts the melody much more in the spotlight. Don’t know who’s playing the harmonica but he’s doing a great ‘train-whistle’ job of it. Sub-3 minute pop song. Very catchy.
Corrina Corrina… opens with harmonica, and the arpeggio is very similar to the original. This is another song I’ve always loved, although as I said on the Linda Mason review, this isn’t a Dylan original. I do like Aufray’s voice. Apparently by the end of the 60s he had the reputation as a stodgy old fart because he sang too many old fashioned classics, but here he sounds in fine fettle, at about 35 years of age.
Cauchemar Psychomoteur (Motorpsycho Nightmare)… listening to this made me realize just how much this song is identical to “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” on Bringing It All Back Home. In fact before looking at the track listing, I couldn’t figure which one of the two songs it was, although listening closely to the lyrics and the rhythmic phrasing, you can hear bits that sound like the original. Dunno how he does it in French, but Aufray fits the lyrics in brilliantly to the melody. This also has a really cool skiffle-rock sound. There’s a neat electric guitar stabbing away in the background. Aufray keeps up with the lyrics, never tiring once. Great harmonica too.
Les Temps Changent (The Times They Are A-Changin’)… in which Aufray plays it straight with just a lone acoustic guitar and his voice, which is a little smoother than Dylan’s but not so far removed that it changes things in any significant way. I suppose if I were to listen to this over and over and look at the English lyrics, I could probably learn some French, but that probably won’t get me very far in France. Me: “Ne résistent pas à la porte / ne pas bloquer la salle.” Tour guide: “Excuzee moi s’il vous plait? … Er, I am not, er, standeeng in ze doorway or blocking up ze hall.” I love how this sounds just as raw as the original. Great stuff Hugues.
La Ballade de Hollis Brown (Ballad Of Hollis Brown)… banjo, acoustic guitar being played on the low notes, and that rough and ready voice make this another goodie. No effects on the voice, no strings here, this is the original done straight up. That incessantly played bass note gives this a real serious insistent atmosphere. Slight reverb on Aufray’s voice, but sung raw, with passion. He can sing well and he’s captured the tonality thing down pat, hardening his voice for some songs (this one) and softening it for others. Clearly a talented man.
La Mort Solitaire De Hattie Carrol (Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll)… is also performed with great faith to the original. Just a strummed acoustic guitar, and the lyrics match up perfectly in French to the rhythm. No awkward fitting extra words in and around the rhythm. I’d say he’s spent a lot of time working on the exact timing, because I don’t think Dylan’s more wordy numbers would be all that easy to mimic well in English, let alone a different language. “Me ne su sai la pavous la petois o…a la Villiam Z’zinger.” Aufray’s voice even starts to get a bit hoarse on this song, but in a really cool, too-much-whisky kind of way. “hous qui le philosophe…” – I assume he’s singing all the verses, although some of the songs seem shorter than the originals.
Dieu Est A Nos Côtés (With God On Our Side)… is a strange one for him to cover. I’d have thought this was specific to an American point of view. Not that there’s any reason he shouldn’t I suppose. I guess Aufray is performing a service here, bringing Dylan to a whole nation of people who have no reason to learn English. This is also played true to the original, a soaring vocal in places, recorded a little loud perhaps, and a strummed acoustic guitar. “Dieu est a nos cotes” – “With God on our side” –that’s the chorus. Know how I know? It’s the title, translated by Google as “God is on our side.” Finishes with a nice loud blast on the harmonica.
Le Jour Où Le Bateau Viendra (When The Ship Comes In)… sounds like it was recorded at a totally different session. The thrashed acoustic guitar sounds harsh, and the vocal is slightly distorted. Then an electric bass comes on and, hey, a background male harmonizing choir. I think it’s All Music Guide who slag this off for that, but no way. It’s good to hear these kind of frills thrown over the songs. Who wants to hear exact copies? I dig that background vocal. Not great quality on the recording, but hey, it was the 60s. All is forgiven.
Aufray was born in 1929 which made him 35 or 36 at the time he made this album. He was famous in France as a singer, especially for his Dylan covers. He released another Dylan covers album later in 95 called Aufray Trans Dylan, which includes tracks from the above album plus others. He is still alive at the time of writing (May 2011) and was still performing at the ripe old age of 80 in 2009, which means the old codger still has ten years on Dylan. Finally, click THIS to read an excellent article on the difficulties of translating and singing Dylan in French.