French singer and actress Nicole Croisille can be safely described as a national treasure in her homeland, but her fame has extended to international shores. One listen to her recordings, and it’s easy to see why. She’s perhaps most famous as the female voice of composer Francis Lai’s irresistibly catchy “A Man and a Woman” (“Un homme et une femme”) opposite Pierre Barouh from the 1966 film of the same name. (Croisille had a solo, translated as “Today It’s You,” on the soundtrack as well, and shared “Stronger Than Us” with Barouh.) Two of her most beloved albums were reissued and expanded by the United Music Foundation in recent years; this deluxe 2-CD Collectors Edition (also available digitally) is currently available as Il Était Une Fois…Nicole, or Once Upon a Time…Nicole.
Il Était Une Fois…Nicole indeed travels back in time as it brings together two of the artist’s most acclaimed albums: 1977’s Femme…Woman In Your Arms and 1980’s Croisille 80. The set begins with the latter, arranged and conducted by the late Michel Colombier. The French composer (1939-2004) had a varied career, from writing film soundtracks to scoring the one-of-a-kind concept album Wings for A&M Records featuring Paul Williams as lyricist and vocalist. Bill Medley, Herb Alpert, and Lani Hall also appeared on the ambitious jazz-rock record. Colombier brought his rich musical and melodic sensibilities to Croisille 80, working with producer Claude Dejacques to craft a lithe, sleek sound for the record whether on evocative ballads or uptempo dance-pop confections. Colombier and Croisille were masterful at creating many musical moods for the LP, as on the hypnotic “Encore,” funky “Les Ringards de la Gloire,” dramatic “Je T’Amais,” catchy “Attends-Moi,” or the soft-rock tour of “Rio et Venise.” Four additional singles have been added to the first disc including “Je N’Ai Pas Dit Mon Dernier Mot D’Amour” from the film La Dérobade, and the promotional single version of the album’s “Léo.”
The second album featured in the UMF’s package will be a particular delight to English-speaking fans, as it features Croisille’s recordings in that language. Unsurprisingly, the singer is every bit as convincing in English as in French. Femme…Woman In Your Arms boasts a potpourri of songs both familiar and less well-known, rendered in the inviting Croisille style. Marcel Stellman produced the LP, with Claude Dejacques credited for “original production.” Jean Musy and Christian Gaubert provided the striking arrangements.
Croisille was at her most sensual on the title track “A Woman in Your Arms,” though she deployed her considerable vocal power on the track, too. “Love Happily” is a brassy showcase, as buoyant as “My Love You’re Gone” is dark. (The latter is a bit redolent of Brel’s famous “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” a.k.a. “If You Go Away.”)
She revisited Francis Lai’s songbook on a languid interpretation of the film standard “Live for Life,” co-written with Pierre Barouh, in Norman Gimbel’s English translation. (Croisille had been first to sing the Lai tune for the 1967 motion picture.). Gimbel also adapted Eddy Marnay and Andre Popp’s pleading “Look at Me,” which Croisille convincingly sings with the tinge of heartbreak, as well as Marnay’s beautifully reflective “Once Upon a Summertime” with its poetic English lyrics provided by none other than Johnny Mercer.
A clutch of rare and previously unissued bonus tracks rounds out this disc, as well. These eight selections are among the most eclectic on the entire set. The mature mood of the album is movingly extended via Croisille’s sensitive reading of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Until It’s Time for You to Go.” But her 1973 rendition of Sylvia Robinson’s “Pillow Talk” is deliciously lusty and breathy; its B-side is the toe-tapping vaudeville homage “Everybody Sing My Song.” Croisille’s penchant for big balladry paid off with fine versions of Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel’s “Ready to Take a Chance Again,” introduced by Barry Manilow in 1978, and Boz Scaggs’ “We’re All Alone,” a U.S. top ten hit in 1977 for Rita Coolidge. Two Spanish-language recordings bring this international Nicole Croisille tour to a close.
Il Était Une Fois…Nicole is packaged in an oversized hardcover format including a 40-page booklet with copious liner notes in French. Compilation producer David Hadzis of The United Music Foundation has remastered both albums and the bonus material. It’s a collection worthy of an enchanting artist.
For more on the Collectors Edition of Il Était Une Fois…Nicole, please visit The United Music Foundation here! You’ll find order information, including for an autographed edition. The UMF ships worldwide. This release is also available via digital download and streaming at Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.!