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Album Review: Zaz – ZAZ

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Zaz‘s self-titled debut made waves when it was first released last year, managing to climb the charts and reach platinum status or better in France, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, and Belgium. Now the French chanteuse brings her breakout album to the U.S., hoping to cross the language barrier and expand her fan base across the Atlantic.

Self-described as “gypsy jazz”, it’s hard to come up with a better category to put this album in. Stateside, it’d be easy to imagine Zaz performing alongside similarly inspired (but different-sounding) acts like Gogol Bordello and DeVotchKa. Her voice is at varying times husky and smooth, often falling into an interesting area in between the two. “Les Passants” rolls out into a playful, bouncy vocal sung by Zaz over a light strummed guitar and drum backing. A punchy horn section and upright bass populate “Prends Garde À Ta Langue”, Zaz’s most dance-ready number, and “Ni Oui Ni Non” is an upbeat acoustic sing-along. “Dans Ma Rue” invokes a smoky cabaret with its sparse jazz piano instrumentation and Zaz’s syrupy inflection. There is a good handful of songs here that you’ll be coming back to, regardless of your level of understanding of the French language.

The album does lose steam when it falls into more straightforward pop territory, dropping the jazzier instrumentation and the more interesting qualities of the singer’s voice for an occasionally bland and over-produced sound that lacks the panache present elsewhere on the disc. It’s worst on “Éblouie Par La Nuit”, an over-wrought pop ballad where the belted vocal work borders on shrill.

Though not posed to be the chart-topping hit it was overseas, ZAZ features a good number of very solid songs and is certain to fill a niche with audiences looking to hear what’s new in French pop .

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