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The poet laureate of contemporary French rock, Jean-Louis Murat is an enigmatic and reclusive figure who communicates with the world at large almost exclusively via his poignant and deeply elegiac songs.
Born Jean-Louis Bergheaud on January 28, 1954, in the Massif Central mountain community of La Bourboule, he spent the majority of his childhood at his grandparents' farm in remote Murat-le-Quaire; not only would the village's name later double as his creative alias, but its rural austerity would deeply influence his songwriting as well. Murat began learning music at age seven, often sitting in on tenor saxophone and cornet with his father's amateur band. A loner by nature, as a teen he consumed the romantic literature of André Gide and D.H. Lawrence, eventually discovering American jazz and R&B.
By 17 he was a husband and father, concurrently studying at Clermont-Ferrand -- the marriage proved short-lived, however, and Murat spent the next several years as a nomad, working odd jobs everywhere from Paris to Saint Tropez. In 1977 he returned to Murat-le-Quaire for good, forming a band, Clara, that briefly served as the support unit behind pop singer William Sheller. While Clara dissolved soon after, the exposure landed Murat a record deal with EMI, and he introduced his signature brand of romantic despair with 1981's "Suicidez-Vous, le People Est Mort," which immediately earned censure from radio station Europe 1. A six-song EP, Murat, followed in 1982, and two years later he issued his first full-length effort, Passion Priveé. Sales were nonexistent, and while on tour in support of CharlElie Couture, the singer learned that EMI had terminated his contract.
Murat soon latched on with CBS, recording a number of demos that were unceremoniously shelved, and ultimately retreated back to the Massif Central to recover and plan his next move. Despite minimal interest from rival labels, Virgin Records extended a contract offer in early 1987, and soon after Murat resurfaced with the single "Si Je Devais Manquer de Toi." The record proved an unexpected success, and set the stage for the 1989 LP Cheyenne Autumn, a profoundly atmospheric and melancholy song cycle that sold in excess of 100,000 copies. A 1990 follow-up EP, Murat en Plein Air, paid heartfelt homage to country life and further cemented Murat's newfound commercial prowess, so much so that he next co-starred alongside Isabelle Huppert and Béatrice Dalle in filmmaker Jacques Doillon's La Vengeance d'une Femme. In the minds of many French critics, his next album, Le Manteau de Pluie, remains Murat's masterpiece, stripping his music to its bare essentials in imitation of his idol and most direct antecedent, Leonard Cohen.
The follow-up, Venus, was recorded in just six days and hit retail in the autumn of 1993, preceding the singer's first-ever tour, an eight-month trek highlighted by three December dates at the Paris venue La Cigale that were later assembled for the concert LP Murat Live. Inspired by trip-hop and written in the wake of a failed relationship, 1996's Dolorès proved Murat's best-selling effort to date, and was followed by a brief tour; he then traveled to the U.S. to record 1999's Mustango, a radical transition from previous efforts that spotlighted his outrage against the violence and racism increasingly plaguing his homeland. An extended tour yielded a second live LP, Muragostang, and in 2001 Murat returned with a new studio project, Madame Deshoulières, a record based on a series of poems by 17th century noblewoman Antoinette Deshoulières; conversely, six months later he issued Le Moujik et Sa Femme, his most accessible and mainstream pop release to date.
At an age when most artists begin curtailing their creative pace, the 49-year-old Murat continued accelerating his output, in early 2003 releasing the bleak, Neil Young-inspired Lilith. He next teamed with Elysian Fields frontwoman Jennifer Charles and bassist Fred Jimenez (a longtime collaborator of French pop wunderkind Bertrand Burgalat) to create the ye-ye-influenced A Bird on a Poire, a work credited to all three participants. Murat resurfaced in the spring of 2005 with 1451, a limited-edition multimedia set comprised of a 1,000-line poem written by the singer as well as an accompanying CD and DVD; a related project, 1829, set the lyrics of Napoleonic Empire-era songwriter Pierre-Jean de Béranger to original music. A new LP, Moscou, soon hit retail as well, highlighted by duets with up-and-coming pop stars Carla Bruni and Camille. The much-acclaimed Taormina followed in mid-2006. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi