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Viva La France – with lots of banjos and ukuleles

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arlez-moi d'amour. Il m'a vue nue. Presque oui.

You might not be able to understand Les Chauds Lapins when they take the stage at Williamsburg's Pete's Candy Store this month, but it will still be fun listening.

Devoted entirely to singing French songs d'amour, the group gives their own treatment to 1920's, 30's and 40's French hits, re-imagining them with a banjo, ukulele, viola and the occasional clarinet to back up Meg Reichardt's mature, expressive voice and Kurt Hoffman's deeper, playful one. In addition to charming audiences with their American accents, the two also play the banjo uke.

Though they sing entirely in the language of love, the band hails from right here in Brooklyn, with its two band leaders, Reichardt and Hoffman, based in Williamsburg.

A few years ago, Reichardt, also known from her work in The Roulette Sisters, and Hoffman, of The Ordinaires and The Band of Weeds, discovered they both had a mutual affection for the obscure 78's of Charles Trenet, Edith Piaf, Josephine Baker, Jean Sablon and Lucienne Boyer.

Both schooled in the American music form from the same period, they delighted upon discovering for themselves the French counterpart – witty, passionate songs with great, swinging melodies. With Hoffman behind the string arrangements, they shied away from the “slick, showbiz style of The Moulin Rouge” and turned their favorites into back porch-style songs.

“We try to make them our own without some transformation into a lounge act,” said Hoffman, who, along with Reichardt, takes lessons at the French Institute in Manhattan to perfect that French accent. “It's extremely unconventional compared to the way they were recorded.”

For the most part, the band tries to avoid the most well-known French songs from that period, refusing to sing Charles Trenet's “La Mer” (which, Americanized, became Bobby Darin's hit, “Beyond the Sea”) and Edith Piaf's “La Vie En Rose.” Instead, they scour eBay for old 78 records and yellowing sheet music of French show tunes to sing those songs that are obscure, at least to them.

When the group chanced upon Lucienne Boyer's hit “Parlez-moi d'amour,” they thought they had found this rare, unheard gem that was surprisingly, undeniably good. Upon further investigation, they realized it was a hit in France back in the day.

“We had this gig in Paris – the entire audience sang along,” laughed Hoffman.

While audiences stateside most likely will keep quiet during Les Chauds Lapins gigs, when performing live, the group helps out their non-French speaking audiences by explaining the songs, which tend to be very narrative, in English before launching into their rendition.

Those readers who are brushed up on their French may get the literal translation of “les chauds lapins” – “the hot rabbits.” Those further in the know may also be familiar with the more risque figurative translation – a “hot bunny” is someone who is always on the prowl for women.

“Since we basically sing songs about love and sex, we thought the name fit,” said Hoffman.

Live, the group ranges from just the two band leaders to a full quintet. For their upcoming show on July 24 at Pete's Candy Store, expect a trio, with Hoffman and Reichardt joined by a bassist, as they pull from their repertoire of about 20 songs, some of which can be found on their 2007 record, “Parlez-moi d'amour” (“Speak to me of love”).

With Park Slope's Barbes the group's regular hang (which, incidentally enough, is owned by two Frenchmen), Les Chauds Lapins make their debut at their neighborhood venue Pete's Candy Store.

“Pete's is like playing in a tour bus,” said Hoffman of the narrow venue, which will surely make for an intimate performance as the two sing of romance.

Also joining Les Chauds Lapins on the bill that night is Lenny Molotov, a Brooklyn-based fingerstyle guitarist who sings of love, as well as politics and other contemporary themes. He will be joined by Jake Engel on harmonica, Karl Meyer on violin and J.D. Wood on upright bass. Ladystein, a folk-pop ensemble, also adds to the twangy mix.

Les Chauds Lapins play Pete's Candy Store (709 Lorimer Street) on July 24 at 10 p.m. For more information, call 718-302-3770 or go to www.petescandystore.com. For more on the band, go to www.leschaudslapins.com or www.myspace.com/chaudslapins.

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