The title of Francesca Blanchard’s first full-length record, deux visions, speaks volumes in its own right, hinting at the richness of the music the album contains. It encapsulates the singer-songwriter’s dual identity on several levels: one word in French and the other in English, together meaning “two visions” and together enunciating the sound of the word “divisions.” Blanchard’s childhood in southern France and young adulthood in Vermont, interspersed with travels to over thirty different countries thanks to her parents’ humanitarian work, form the foundations for her poignant, bilingual meditations. Her original, intimate songs touch upon spaces “betwixt and between” and the search for love, home and sanctuary.
A singer from infancy and a songwriter since childhood, Blanchard’s musical influences are as eclectic as her upbringing. Her family’s soundtrack included folk, rock, jazz, French chanson and pop, classical, soul, world music and musical theater — a diverse playlist that reflected the open-minded aesthetic of her multicultural household. Captivated at age 10 by her mother’s performance of “Blackbird,” she taught herself acoustic guitar by imitating Paul McCartney’s finger-picking technique.
But it was the voices that made the biggest impression, with singers ranging from Tracy Chapman, Eva Cassidy, Diana Krall and Norah Jones along with French icons such as Carla Bruni, Francoise Hardy, Edith Piaf, Francis Cabrel, and Alain Souchon leaving their mark on her musical development. Just 23 years old, Francesca Blanchard has been called a “a profound, mature talent” who “displays guile and artistic sensitivity that would be the envy of many tunesmiths twice her age. She may be young, but she has an old soul.” (Seven Days).
Blanchard proved herself as a composer and song stylist with her six-song EP from 2011, Songs On An Ovation, which Vermont weekly Seven Days called “Quietly and profoundly stunning. It is a humble ode to love, heartbreak and home that says more about all three topics in the span of 17 minutes than some songwriters do over entire careers.” Even more remarkable, given that Francesca was just 19 at the time of the EP’s release.
While performing regularly and working as a coffee shop barista, booked studio time in August and September of 2014 at Lane Gibson Recording & Mastering in her current home of Charlotte, VT and hired a creative double-threat from Montreal: producers Chris Velan (Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars) to oversee the project and Jean Massicotte (Lhasa, Patrick Watson, Arthur H, Jorane) to mix the album.
Blanchard explains that the twelve songs of deux visions—six in French and six in English—convey the distinct worldviews carried by each language. “All these ‘selves’ I carry, that make me the whole being that I am, the artist I’ve become…they are what I wanted to devote this album to. It is an ode to where I’ve been and where I’ll go; who I was and who I’ve become. The album is both a bittersweet eulogy and a heartfelt welcome.” Blanchard actualizes this idea by striking a balance between Americana, subdued indie rock and French chanson that will surely find a diverse audience.
Despite the duality at its core, Blanchard’s quiet resolve echoes throughout deux visions. Each song thinks, moves, soothes, and even chuckles through unsettling circumstances, activities that she asserts are discernable in the melody and mood as much as in the words. With its slow, steady beat and pedal steel reminiscent of Neil Young’s oeuvre, the album’s lead single, “Rame” (Row), imparts a steadfast resolve to weather rough waters en route to shore. The Americana flavored “Wanderer,” buoyed by banjo and a propulsive sing-along chorus, distills her years of geographic adjustment and upheaval into an assertive calling card of self.
Questions of home and family, and their effectiveness as anchors, prevail on the propulsive “Le Blues,” the muscular “Empty House,” the lilting piano-and-strings showcase “Home Is A Cage,” and the contemplative “Papa…Père.” The softly whimsical “Tu N’existes Pas” (You Don’t Exist) and the rollicking “Pas D’sa Faute” (It’s Not Her Fault) use humorous storytelling (the former about an imaginary boyfriend and the latter relating a tale of a working-class Parisian prostitute) as a coping mechanism. “Now That You Are Gone” and “The Sea (Zach’s Song)”—both instrumentally sparse and hauntingly beautiful—confront the reality of pining for what has been lost. Blanchard also re-works songs from her EP to display her evolution as an artist in the last four years: the new versions of “Save A Different Way” and “Mon Ange” (My Angel) contain fuller, more complex arrangements that reveal the songs’ possibilities and Blanchard’s stylistic range.
A natural performer with a Theatre Arts degree from Boston University under her belt, Blanchard has already opened for Joan Armatrading and Suzanne Vega and has a North American tour underway in support of deux visions. With the release of her debut album, Blanchard embarks on a new journey, one that marks the introduction of a unique talent.