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Keren Ann Keren Ann [EMI]

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Rating: 7.5

Sometimes ethereal blues and sometimes folk-pop, but almost always lovely, Keren Ann Zeidel has recently released her third album of songs performed in English. Her first two records were performed strictly with French vocals and her last release, 2004’s excellent Nolita had an ideal mixture of both languages. Whichever she chooses to perform in, Keren Ann’s voice is gorgeous and her new self-titled CD includes nine new songs that breezily float through realms of folk, jazz, and rock with wispy melancholy. Having lived in at least four countries in her life has proven to add nothing short of sophistication to her music.

Opening with the slow and droney “It’s All a Lie” reveals how versatile Keren Ann is as a songwriter. The track doesn’t sound like anything else that she has previously written while remaining a dead ringer for her style. The song moves along with a cadence reminiscent of Mazzy Star or the Cowboy Junkies. Relying heavily on cymbal percussion, Hammond organ and fuzz guitar, Keren half sings, half whispers the vocals with confidence. The single, “Lay Your Head Down,” is a bit of a disappointment being a pop song clearly directed towards the radio market. There are even some hand claps used as percussion that sound silly and out of place, but both her voice and the amplified harmonica manage to not only redeem the song, but also help to warrant it repeated listening. With a tendency to not want to like this song, I too can’t help myself from becoming infected by the catchy melody, but once again, maybe it’s her voice that makes the listener gravitate toward her material more than anything else.

“In Your Back” is a great acoustic guitar led folk song that hearkens back to the sound of Nolita. The verse portion of the song is her fairly standard material, but the eerie chorus and the stunningly beautiful bridge part of the track are out of this world. In the chorus she sings, “And you can do no wrong with charity until/You’ll exhaust your lies and remedies, you will/But with your voice and melodies you kill.” The last line can be used to describe this album, of course given that the word ‘kill’ here is a positive metaphor. Another song in a similar folk style that sounds perhaps as though it would have fit right into 2003’s Not Going Anywhere is “Where No Endings End.” This plaintive ballad features spy-theme lead guitar and lullaby piano that work well as a classy accompaniment to her lyrics and vocals.

Full of longing and remorse, the song “Liberty” is one of the best ones on the album. The lyrics read like an apology letter for having been unfaithful to her partner before a relationship with addressee of the song even began. The melody captures the mournful tone of the lyrics so well and the song closes obliquely with the lines “And the more that I ran, the more I was promised the sun…” The strangest thing on this new record is “It Ain’t No Crime.” The song is a grungy, grimy electric track that is definitely unlike anything in her repertoire. It is a murky garage blues song that is produced in a manner that removes what would likely be a harshness in sound with most rock artists. The song is a good contrast to some to the slower material and actually fits in well with the rest of the songs on the album because it is toned down just enough to suit her style.

By not giving her new record a title, Keren Ann was either struggling with an apt title or else she was trying to make a statement about trying to begin anew with this collection of songs. Whichever she intended is anyone’s guess, but the album stands up there with her best and would most likely delight anyone interested in a talented singer-songwriter who has still very much retained a cult status.

-Andrew Boe

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By Andrew Boe

I live and work in Seattle and have been here for ten years now. My addictions are records, coffee and red wine. Musically speaking, my tastes are grounded in a space where Leonard Cohen has dinner with the Reid brothers from the Jesus and Mary Chain.