tue 27/02/2024

Keren Ann, Jazz Café | reviews, news & interviews

Keren Ann, Jazz Café

Keren Ann, Jazz Café

Keren Ann's new-found pop smarts aren't showcased to best effect

Keren Ann: Embracing a pop that’s new to herAmit Israeli

Keren Ann’s new album, 101, might showcase her new-found pop smarts but last night’s hour-and-a-half set ranged through her whole catalogue taking in country-flavoured balladry, early Velvet Underground chugging and introspective singer-songwriting. A single French-language song acknowledged where she first attracted attention. Her American-accented English betrayed little of her Franco-Israeli roots. Truly multinational, her show at the Jazz Café was similarly diverse.

It was a peculiarly paced set. The up-tempo “Je fume pour oublier que tu bois” followed a harmonica-racked take of 101’s “Daddy, You Been on My Mind”. It was followed by 2003’s reflective “Sailor and Widow”. As a statement of who she is, last night worked perfectly. But as statement of where she is right now, a couple of days after the release of 101, it was less successful.

The path which has brought Keren Ann here meanders, like her journey through life: she grew up in Israel and the Netherlands and lived in France from 11. Her early champion was France’s ubiquitous post-Gainsbourg figure, Benjamin Biolay. Her songs soon entered the repertoire of Gallic icon Henri Salvador. Biolay moved on, and like his other collaborators such as Daphné, Keren Ann also moved forward on her own. Up to 2004’s Nolita, her albums were pretty much introspective, singer-songwriter affairs. Other things circled though. In 2003 she’d collaborated with Iceland's Barði Jóhannsonn as Lady and Bird – they worked with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra in 2008. The same year saw her create the entire musical identity for TV channel ARTE. Just before that, she moved to New York, which impacted massively on the sound of her 2007 eponymously titled album.

But the greatest impact on 101 were the two albums she produced, played on, arranged and largely wrote last year: one for Roman Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigner and one for another French icon, Sylvie Vartan. Keren Ann recently said writing pop-type songs for others made her decide to do the same for herself.

Six albums in, she’s embraced a pop that’s new to her. The first glimpse was the pre-101 single “My Name is Trouble”, an incredibly effective, worming-into-your-head, glacial electropop shuffler. 101 also sports some older-styled pieces of introspection, but these are overshadowed by her new approach, especially the Grand Guignol whimsy of “Blood on My Hands” and the orchestrated title track – a spoken reflection of the place of multiple Gods in today’s world.

Played as the intro last night, “101” sat perfectly with the new album’s silky and swinging “Sugar Mama”. The new “Blood on My Hands” was up next. Then the nodding back began with two from Nolita: “For You and I” and a delicate, again countrified, “Chelsea Burns”.

KA2_webIndividual songs were great, but the set didn’t - and couldn’t with the wide range styles – gel. Her band didn’t help. Notation on music stands was evident, and the clumpy drumming on, say, “For You and I” detracted from the mood. The bobbing, road-digging moves of the bass player distracted too. The band's flat-cap, baseball-cap and sloppy T-shirt rag-bag look didn’t help either. Keren Ann herself was pin-sharp and cool. Couldn’t her band have stepped up to the plate?

Whatever the distractions, this was about Keren Ann. Obviously nervous and talking too much, she nonetheless engaged. “My Name is Trouble” was lovely, smoothly seductive. Her bell-like singing on downbeat set-closer “Stranger Weather” was pure and emotive. The slow-mo “I’m Waiting For the Man”-style of “Lay Your Head Down” was trance-like.

Yet last night felt like work in progress. Songs shone. Keren Ann shone. 101 is a superb album. But the focus hadn’t yet been found. A look over at what makes 101 tick might help bring that focus.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Watch the video for Keren Ann’s “My Name is Trouble”

‘As a statement of who Keren Ann is, last night worked perfectly. But as statement of where she is right now, it was less successful’

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