French progressive rock outfit Lazuli has very recently released a new, special album entitled Dénudé, meaning ‘stripped’ or ‘naked’, appropriate for these sixteen unplugged versions recorded in 2020, selected from the band’s first eight studio albums. These ‘undressed’ songs, acoustic or otherwise, are more direct, closer to their origins and the sensations felt whilst writing. Singer/composer Dominique Leonetti puts it this way: “One way to get closer to our listeners in these times of forced distancing, to reduce the kilometres between us, like a sound to invade the silence, to fill the void.” Quite poetic.
Dénudé was released on 16th March, a symbolic date as it marked exactly one year since the last Lazuli live concert [the day after this one]. 2020 was a turbulent year for the band, in many ways. Guitarist Gédéric Byar decided to leave halfway through the year. An emotional moment for all involved and a complete surprise as well. Byar has been part of the French quintet for over 15 years and collaborated on their most recent studio album Le Fantastique Envol de Dieter Böhm. Byar’s replacement is talented French guitarist Arnaud Beyney, and he has been fully involved in the recording of Dénudé. Lazuli initially hoped to be able to resume their tour as early as 2021, to play the new material live, however, they recently decided to postpone all shows until 2022. Unfortunately, it will be some time before we can enjoy the band on stage again. C’est la vie.
So to Dénudé. “Undressed” is a better description than “naked”, because although the acoustic instruments strongly prevail here, there is still room for the electric guitar and especially the Léode from time to time. Fortunately, I would like to say; fully acoustic albums sometimes tend to get monotonous, even boring. That is certainly not the case here. In an extremely tasteful way, l’équipe Francais knows how to captivate the listener and transport them into the wonderful musical world called Lazuli. It seems as if the music gains even more force as the clothes come off, metaphorically.
Dominique Leonetti’s crystal-clear voice and Romain Thorel’s subdued piano sounds are the hallmarks of opener J’attends un printemps, and they immediately give me goosebumps. Other similar songs in which Domi’s voice takes the central spot are 15H40 and La valse à cent ans, the latter with a sprinkling of percussion.
It would go too far to name all sixteen songs individually, but I would like to highlight a few, such as the Beatle-like Dans le formol au museum and the Pink Floyd-references in Cassiopée, thanks to the tasteful pedal steel guitar of Arnaud Beyney. Arnaud could prove to be a real asset, his clear electric guitar sounds on, among others, Une ombre au tableau, Une pente qu’on dévale and especially La vie par la face nord are a feast for the ears. I would even like to call the latter a thing of pastoral beauty, partly due to the combination of pedal steel and accordion.
Personal favourites are the jubilant Vita est circus, with its almost Vaudeville instrumentation of French horn and musical saw (Léode), and Nos âmes saoules, a wonderful song featuring the aforementioned Arnaud Beyney on electric guitar with the Genesis-like 12-string of Dominique Leonetti. Finally, another of those beautifully subdued vocal and piano tracks in the form of Un automne, at least at first. Until French horn, Léode and pedal steel make their appearance. Strong reference to Big Big Train and, once again, goosebumps.
The songs seem to gain expressiveness in these stripped-down versions, mainly due to the simplicity of the compositions and the ever-present melody. The phenomenal voice of Dominique Leonetti is most remarkable. He won’t acknowledged this, team player that he is, but much of Lazuli’s appeal can be traced back to those amazing and highly recognisable golden vocal cords of his.
But I would be short selling the rest if I did not draw your attention to Romain Thorel’s sensitive piano playing and contributions on the French horn. Drummer Vincent “Vince” Barnavol is largely subordinate to the group sound, which cannot be said of Claude “Clo” Leonetti. The musical saw screams, whispers and howls again as never before, but more dosed now. The contribution of Arnaud ‘No Nickname Yet’ Beyney is already clearly audible, and promises a lot for his future role in this “band of brothers”. In addition, pay some extra attention to the vocal harmonies, which have always been strong but are now even more clearly audible, sometimes even downright impressive.
The five from the small southern French town have once again managed to produce an excellent album, with well-known songs in a different guise, sometimes even without the latter. The power of good music lies not in excess, but in good melodies and strong compositions. And Lazuli has that in abundance. Salut et chapeau, mes amis!
[You can read Alex’s interview with Dominique Leonetti of Lazuli HERE.]
01. J’attends un printemps (4:32)
02. Dans le formol au museum (2:59)
03. Cassiopée (5:11)
04. 15H40 (3:55)
05. Mes semblables (5:03)
06. Tristes moitiés (4:05)
07. Multicolère (3:07)
08. Une ombre au tableau (3:41)
09. Vita est circus (4:30)
10. Naïf (4:19)
11. En avant doute (3:16)
12. La valse à cent ans (4:19)
13. La vie par la face nord (3:26)
14. Une pente qu’on dévale (4:41)
15. Nos âmes saoules (5:04)
16. Un automne (4:16)
Total – 66:24
Claude Leonetti – Léode, Lap Steel
Vincent Barnavol – Percussion, Marimba, Vibraphon, Glockenspiel
Romain Thorel – Piano, French Horn
Arnaud Beyney – Guitars, Pedal Steel, Mandolin, Bass
Dominique Leonetti – 6 & 12-string Acoustic Guitars, Accordion, Vocals
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: France:
Date of Release: 16th March 2021
– Dénudé (2021)
– Le Fantastique Envol de Dieter Böhm (2020)
– Saison 8 (2018)
– Nos âmes saoules (2016)
– Tant Que l’Herbe Est Grasse (2014)
– 4603 Battements (2011)
– Résponse Incongrue A l’Inéluctable (2009)
– En Avant Doute (2207)
– Amnésie (2003)
– Lazuli (1999)