Silvain Vanot: Bethesda


Normandy-born Silvain Vanot might sing in French, but he’s steeped in a Neil Young-derived Americana. Between Robert Wyatt and Young at his most intimate, his tremulous tenor has been recorded in Nashville. He’s also used studios and producers associated with Lambchop and Young.
After his last album, 2002’s ‘Il Fait Soleil’, he realised his label Virgin was about to dump him so he jumped ship. He’d recorded five albums for them from 1993 to 2002 and refocused on soundtracks. He’s returned for his sixth album on the Paris-based indie Megaphone Music. An interesting label, it’s issued new material (Lecube; ex-Pale Fountain/Shack Michael Head) in parallel with reissues from the outer fringes (Blind Blake’s calypso; early home recordings by Karen Dalton).
Just as interesting is the fact that ‘Bethesda’ – named after the north Wales town where it was recorded – features a cast that’s as wide-ranging as Megaphone’s roster. Vanot is accompanied by Henry Cow’s John Greves (bass, harmonium, more keyboards), Shack’s drummer Iain Templeton and pedal steel ubiquity BJ Cole.
Individual songs are assured, but ‘Bethesda’ lacks focus overall. The pedal steel sweeps over opening cut ‘O Mon Tour’, a lugubrious elegy that’d well suit a long pan from Wim Wenders or David Lynch. It’s followed by jazzy shuffle ‘Un Pied Derrière’, continuing the restrained tone. Only when ‘Les Cloches De L’Amour’ rolls in does ‘Bethesda’warm up – textured/distorted guitar and organ fill ebb like The Rain Parade’s Neil Youngisms. ‘Le Mouton A Trois Têtes’ grinds like ‘Ragged Glory’ without the guitar solos. A harmonium and clarinet-dominated version of Nat King Cole’s ‘Nature Boy’ is subtle and ghostly, while the piano and flute bedding for ‘Rivière’ evokes a similar forlornness. Although there’s little wrong with the songs, ‘Bethesda’ remains unsatisfying overall. It lacks drama, doesn’t get out of third gear. Vanot may not have meant it to take off, butBethesda’ sure sounds as though it’s trying to. In this post-Fleet Foxes, post-Midlake world, Vanot’s templates might want a redraft.
‘Bethesda’ is issued in the UK on 29 March
© Kieron Tyler