By Super Dee
Every now and then an album comes unassumingly across my desk, and it makes the Earth move. This is what happened with the self-titled debut album by Etienne de Rocher. An Alabama-born son of French professors turned San Francisco local, his name has been seen in opening slots and intimate shows around the Bay Area. With an ever-changing band, he has shared the stage with many fog city resident musicians through the years and has built a modest yet loyal local fan base. I’m actually embarrassed to say that it has taken me this long to discover this treasure that has been right here under my nose.
His debut release is dripping with romance and melancholy, but there is also a whimsical thread that weaves it all together. He seems to be the kind of artist that uses his songwriting to express his emotions so that he doesn’t have to take “real life” too seriously. His musical ability on acoustic guitar and piano is infallible and confident, but it’s his vocal range that is most remarkable, reaching the outer realms of the male voice with ease and beauty.
Fans of Beck, Jack Johnson, Xavier Rudd, and Ben Harper will be primed to love this album, but there is a mysterious depth that will reach those who prefer to stand in the shadows. As the San Francisco Chronicle put it, “Think Nick Drake produced by Peter Gabriel.” The album, produced by Etienne and Dan Prothero of Fog City Records, is polished yet authentic and carefully crafted. Etienne was joined by some of the Bay Area’s best musicians - including Todd Roper (Cake) and Todd Sickafoose (Ani DiFranco) - in studios, basements, and ostrich farms(!) to record this album. There are some really amazing songs, including the heart-aching “You Became a Knife” and the Beck-esque “The Lizard Song.” The real gem on this album is “There’s Real and There’s Moonshine,” which has the perfect combination of meaningful lyrics and its matching powerful melodic swell, especially as he sings, “I know sometimes that you want to feel dangerous/ but danger is a temporary drug/ can make you feel so bad sometimes/ when you really don't know/ what you're doing things for.”
You all usually only hear from me when something has struck a major chord in my being, and this album has done it. Upon further investigation after this discovery of new love, I was thrilled to find out that Etienne was performing a special Valentine’s Day show at the intimate Café Du Nord in San Francisco. Valentine’s Day can be an awkward day, especially when it seems to only exist to create a bump in the economy. Nonetheless, Etienne on voice and grand piano – joined by a drummer, violinist, and cellist with whom he has shared the stage many times in the past - filled the room with warm melodies and gentle wit to ease our “brave” souls.
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