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Shine a dazzling light on the French songbook
Review by Jeanti St Clair

Baby et Lulu is the francophone project of Abby Dobson, singer of Australian nineties indie pop band Leonardo’s Bride, and Lara Goodridge, singer/violinist of Sydney ‘rock’ string quartet FourPlay.

The pair has just released a debut self-titled album of 12 songs and touring to show it off.

Bay et Lulu play tribute to some of the great French singers and writers of the past century, and it is an enchanting musical frolic through the French songbook. Abby and Lara conjure all that is romantic about Paris; from walks along the river Seine and Les Champs Elysées, to the torch songs of Piaf and the French pop of the 1960s.

On stage, the two women bring distinctive but harmonizing qualities to the stage. Lara Goodridge is a diva; charismatic with a flash of a wide smile and she is genuine warm-hearted. The petite Abby Dobson shows both strength and fragility in both presence and voice, which is tempered by a subtle vibrato. Dobson’s voice is so suited to the French language; she seems born to the language.

Backing the women are four magnificent musicians and together they create a lively gypsy-jazz infused swing. It’s bouncy, often toe-tapping stuff. And boy, are they are tight.

On clarinet, sax and flute, Matt Ottignon keeps it light and breezy while the extremely agile and graceful Marcello Maio on piano and accordion is virtuosic. Goodridge brings gypsy jazz flavour to her violin, Julian Curwin adds jazz colour on the acoustic guitar, while the witty Mark Harris on double bass turns on a great fake French accent.

Indeed, between songs most of the band fakes a French accent, which becomes endearing, and add to the playfulness of the night. They are obviously having fun and so were the audience at the Byron Community Centre.

Over two sets, Baby et Lulu become tour guides across more than 120 years of French song, exploring the genre of French ‘chanson’ more broadly than the album allows. Yes, Edith Piaf is in the songbook, as are songs by Serge Gainsbourg, Brigit Bardot, and Charles Aznavour. But the band also does songs from English-speaking composers like Cole Porter and his C’est Magnifique and the cheeky Sympathique – otherwise known as I Don’t Want to Work penned a ‘little orchestra’ know as Pink Martini from Portland, Oregon, US. And then there are Dobson and Goodridge’s original songs, recently penned in French.

But perhaps my favourite from the night was the song that started it all for Abby Dobson – Even When I’m Sleeping, the big hit in 1996 for Leonardo’s Bride. This French version was actually written not long after the original and it is beautiful, full of yearning and tenderness, perhaps proving that the French language is the language of song.