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Often compared to the legendary Serge Gainsbourg, singer/songwriter/arranger Benjamin Biolay is less apt to call on some lovely like Brigitte Bardot or Françoise Hardy to sing his songs when he can do it just as well himself — although Gainsbourg did often duet with his protégées, most notably Jane Birkin on the scandalous international hit "Je T'aime...Moi Non Plus." Not that the handsome, honey-voiced Biolay hasn't worked with a few female vocalists on occasion, like, for instance, his younger sister, Coralie Clément, who has sometimes been compared to Hardy and Birkin. Biolay arranged and wrote most of the songs on her 2001 debut, Salle des Pas Perdus (which was released in the U.S. in 2002).
Benjamin Biolay was born in Villefranche-sur-Saône, France, in 1973. His father was a clarinet player and member of the local orchestra. Biolay played the violin as a young man, going on to study the instrument at the Lyons Conservatoire. Over the years, his musical interests would grow to encompass classical (Mozart, Beethoven), American pop (Chuck Berry, the Beatles), and traditional French music (Trenet). From the violin, he moved on to the tuba, trombone, guitar, and piano. When he was 13, he discovered Gainsbourg's "Histoire de Melody Nelson," which would have a big influence on his own concept recording (2001's Rose Kennedy). From his teens through his early twenties, Biolay was a member of several groups, including Wind? and Mateo Gallion. The latter released a CD in 1994, which made little impact. In 1996, he was signed as a solo artist to EMI, but his initial singles also met with little success. Then, in 1999 he met Keren Ann Zeidel (aka Keren Ann), with whom he composed the 2000 French hit "Jardin D'hiver" for Henri Salvador's comeback album (Chambre Avec Vue). He would go on to collaborate with Keren Ann on Biographie de Luka Phillipsen (2000) and La Disparition (2002). In some form or another, Biolay has also worked with Hubert Mounier (aka Cleet Boris), Isabelle Boulay, Françoise Hardy, and Jane Birkin.
In 2001, Biolay released his full-length debut, Rose Kennedy, a concept album full of hushed vocals, lush strings, and lyrical musings about the Kennedy family — and Marilyn Monroe — mostly from the point of view of family matriarch Rose. The recording features audio excerpts that evoke those golden years when JFK was in the White House, brother Robert was attorney general, and Monroe was on the silver screen. Other than the English samples (from Some Like It Hot, Monroe's "River of No Return," etc.), Rose Kennedy is in French and wasn't released in the U.S. Also in 2001, Biolay issued the Remix EP, featuring new versions of seven Rose Kennedy songs.
2002 continued to be a big year for Biolay as he entered his own "dynasty" of sorts — a Franco-Italian-acting dynasty, that is — when he married Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni. In 2003, he released Négatif, featuring guest appearances by Chiara and Coralie. ~ Kathleen C. Fennessy, Rovi