Growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I never thought of Ardmore in terms of nightlife. Or fine dining. So it took me a long time to get around to checking out A la Maison, a French BYOB that serves up hot jazz, cool blues, and classical music Wednesdays through Saturdays.
I went on a Monday night when, normally, there is no music. However, this was a bon voyage party for Jacques and Corinne Pellarine, a husband-and-wife duo from France who had performed at A la Maison for four weeks and were returning to their home in the Rhône-Alpes the next day. The restaurant was packed with their fans.
The music started at 6:45pm and ended at 9:30pm, which tells you something about the crowd: older, with deep pockets. There’s no cover charge but if you sit at a table, you’re expected to dine, on anything from paté to profiteroles. You can also sit at the small bar, but it doesn’t afford the best view of the stage. The restaurant’s ambience and cuisine is country French. Authentic, not contrived. Relaxed, not stuffy.
La Vie, L'Amour
For their first set, Jacques played accordion while Corinne sang original compositions, along with melodies familiar to most Americans over 40. These included the theme from A Man and a Woman, “Autumn Leaves,” and “Under Paris Skies.” What might have been a cliché was totally captivating. After listening over the years to so many singers attempt (and fail) to mimic Edith Piaf, it was refreshing to hear a French chanteuse put her own spin on her music. Corinne kept it light and breezy, without overdramatizing.
For the next set, the Pellarins were joined onstage by Andrea Carlson and the Love Police, a local band that swings and brings a retro feel. Carlson’s attire could be best described as bordello chic: a flower in her long blonde hair, acres of pearls around her neck and wrists, a slithery evening gown, and fingerless satin gloves that rose to her elbows. All the better to strum her acoustic guitar and belt out standards such as “I Won’t Dance,” along with her own come-hither compositions, “Mysterious Moon,” and “Let Me Cook For You.” (She doesn’t mean chicken soup.)
Carlson’s deceptively soft, sweet voice delivered lyrics rich in double entendre and flat-out seduction. Her band includes a rotating crew of some of Philly’s most talented musicians. That night, Jim Cohen played bass guitar; David Posmontier played keyboards; Mac Given played clarinet; Kevin MacConnell plucked bass; Christopher Davis-Shannon sang vocals and played banjo and bass; and David Bopdrummer played (what else?) drums. Carlson sang duets with Corinne in French and English. They closed out the evening with “La Marseillaise,” which brought the entire audience to its feet.