La Vie en Bleu: The Blue Dahlia’s Red-Hot Music From Around the Atlantic Explores the Double Meaning of La Tradition Américaine
Dahlia Dumont is a vocalist, ukulele-player, singer-songwriter, and a Brooklyn-girl but a nomad at heart. She has traveled the world from an early age, always absorbing the cultural and musical influences in her path. Her Eastern European heritage and her years as an anthropology student and teacher in France and Senegal shaped her musical palette, and in 2012 she created her project ‘The Blue Dahlia’.
Dahlia’s debut album “The Blue Dahlia” was released in 2015. The second, “La Tradition Américaine,” was released this year on August 10, 2018.
Every night, Dumont, the driving force behind The Blue Dahlia, would pop into Barbès, the Brooklyn bar famous for its intimacy and its boisterous global music. Recently returned from France, Dumont was struggling with a new baby, her father’s serious illness, and nursing school.
The music she heard at night inspired her, as did the people she met at the club. As qyoted by her, “I decided to get some songs down as a demo”. Her fellow regulars joined in, and a band was born.
The Blue Dahlia has bloomed in two places at once, on the streets of Paris as well as in New York clubs. The Atlantic-spanning band’s latest album weaves French, Mexican, Caribbean, and Eastern European, American folk and soul elements together into La Tradition Américaine. Guided by a puckish refinement and gritty ingenuity, Dumont explores the US’s double-faced tradition of welcoming diversity while wallowing in backwater closed-mindedness and mindless devotion to work and money, through a global lens and with collaborators who take everything from Yiddish poetry to pint glasses and chopsticks to make free-thinking, high-spirited songs.
“My influences stem from growing up in New York as a first-generation American, but also from all the musicians that I work with, all the sides of American music out there,” reflects Dumont. “As I was thinking about the song of that name, and then about this album, the notion of the American tradition went in two separate directions in my head and heart, the dark bigotry and the amazing openness that’s shaped art. We’re highlighting the beauty of the American tradition, the cultural diversity you find in our music,” be that a Mexican-inflected playful French waltz (“Canal Saint-Martin”- from the tracklist), punk string quartet (“Blah Blah”- from the tracklist), or a klezmer meets dub (“Wake Me Up”- from the track list).
Dumont loves to try new ways to perform older material, coming back to songs and adding new arrangements. The romantic “I See Trees Differently” found a deeply American folk form, and also a more reggae-inspired form. Both needed to happen, Dumont feels, and both made the album. ‘Le rȇve’ is a recreation of a song on the previous album,” explains Dumont. “The way my French band played the song was so different and cool. I wanted their touch.” The song’s rhythm section and vocals were recorded in France, with overdubs in the US.
That scrappy urge to put things together, like the sand painting of the American flag that graces the album art, guides Dumont in her songwriting and collaborations. It shaped the way La Tradition Américaine was recorded, in sessions that leaped the Atlantic. There’s a seat-of-the-pants spirit, characterized by the impromptu instruments snagged by Argentine drummer Lautaro Burgos, who used pots, pans, pint glasses, and chopsticks (heard on “La Tradition Américaine” and “Your Love”) to expand the percussion palette.