French Record
Kate and Anna McGarrigle

In a typically eccentric gesture, Canadian folkies Kate and Anna McGarrigle -- who made two great records and a spotty one for Warner Bros. in the Seventies -- have released a delightful album of compositions sung in French. Three of the eleven tracks have been heard before (one from each of the Warner LPs). All boat the tunefulness, instant familiarity and (judging from the characteristically whimsical liner notes) intelligently emotional subject matter for which the McGarrigles are known and loved. Fortunately, their usual spicy folk instrumentation remains intact. the mournful "A Boire" features a slow, churchy organ and dulcimer-like mandolin plucking, while the jaunty, spinning "En Filant Ma Quenouille" sports a violin, an accordion, and a jangling banjo.

Unexpectedly, singing in French inspires the McGarrigles, especially Anna, to new levels of passion. The author of "Heart Like a Wheel" (which Linda Ronstadt made famous), Anna has generally sung in a wistfully frail soprano. But on French Record, particularly in "Mais Quand Tu Danses" and "Excursion a Venise," she reveals a large, gutsy, even guttural voice that's a pleasure to discover. Kate shines brightest in the album's tenderest tune, "Cheminant a la Ville," and both sisters have a lot of fun with a rock & roll number, "La Belle S'est Etourdie (You make Me Dizzy)."

Nearly all the songs, whether by Kate or Anna, are collaborations with Canadian poet Philippe Tatartcheff. Most are distinctive for their offhand imagery and dry wit. For instance, one verse of "Entre Lajeunesse et La Sagesse (Between Youth and Wisdom)" (the title of the Canadian version of French Record, with Lajeunesse also a reference to a Montreal thoroughfare) translates as "Between Lajeunesse and wisdom/There's a subway station/Two handy stores, a Mr. Fix-it/A billboard of Brigitte Bardot."

Interestingly, the LP's strongest cut is "Complainte Pour Ste. Catherine," which appeared on the McGarrigles' debut album and once topped the charts in Holland. A prayer to the patron saint of single women, this composition has an irresistible melody that combines North Country folk music with the stunted rhythms of reggae. It's given grand flavor by the horns of George Bohanon, Kate's accordion and twin fiddles of Jay Unger and Floyd Guilbeau. But what's really wonderful is the contrast between the innocent accompaniment and the curmudgeonly words. The final lines, not translated on the lyric sheet, go something like: "And yes, I am a Christian/Every Sunday I walk my dog."

It's good to have the mischievous McGarrigles back!

Rolling Stone, April 1981