Just two concerts into their planned European tour last year, French fivesome Lazuli had to abandon the gigs and head home before the border closed. Heartbroken, having just released their beautiful new album, Le Fantastique Envol De Dieter Böhm (2020, see review), sadly their guitarist Ged Byar decided to leave the band.
With an incredible back catalogue of nine studio albums on which to draw, plus the arrival of new guitarist Arnaud Beyney, they have released Dénudé comprising 16 of their most recognisable songs. However, these songs have been pared back to their bare bones and reconstructed, making their melodies the stars and using an eclectic mix of instruments to accompany them.
Central to each song is the extraordinary voice of singer, composer, guitarist and, for this album, accordionist, Domi Leonetti. His perfect pitch makes his voice the messenger of the melodies, all lyrics sung in French, but that only adds to the mystery and intensity.
We start in Spring with the gorgeous, hopeful J'Attends Un Printemps (I Wait for A Spring), Romain Thorel's emotive piano introduction raising the curtain, his glorious arpeggios then cascading under Domi's voice.
New boy Beyney makes an early impression, his bluesy, raw guitar style evidenced on Le Formal Au Museum, one of the heavier songs from 2011's 4603 Battements.
The beauty of the melody is not better showcased than on Cassiopée, lifted by Vincent Barnavol's delicate vibraphone and glockenspiel, Beyney's immersive pedal steel and Claude Leonetti's fabulous Léode, which breaks through spectacularly later in the song.
15H40 sounds fresh with an expanded piano line playing beneath the vocals, while the bluesy stomp, Les Semblables has become the band's rallying cry, most of the Lazuli family participating in the backing vocals and handclaps, then everyone laughing at the end.
A favourite, the heartbreakingly beautiful Tristes Moitiés features just the two Leonetti brothers, making it more intimate and personal. Multicolère, slightly darker in tone, has Claude on lap steel and Domi's son Elliot Leonetti playing didgeridoo!
The fairground groove of Vita Est Circus sees the first appearance of Thorel on French horn and Claude's Léode goes into overdrive to create some mind-blowing effects to accompany it.
A veritable battery of percussion and some Middle Eastern vibes make the timeless Naïf another highlight. La Vie Par La Face Nord sees Domi playing accordion while Beyney's atmospheric pedal steel and mandolin create some background magic.
The Lazuli family reassembles for the backing vocals on the stirring Nos Âmes Saoules (Our Drunken Souls). Then, we end with an autumn, the final track Un Automne performed in the same vein as the opener.
Unashamedly, Lazuli remains your humble reviewer's favourite band and Beyney has made a big impression here, fitting seamlessly into the soul of the band, bringing his own special dynamics into play. Above all, hearing their exquisite songs unplugged and given new life here, fills me with so much joy, happiness, and hope during these difficult days.
***** Alison Reijman
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