A Gift Wrapped From Paris
Keren Ann didn't arrive in Paris until the age of 11, but the French capital is at the very heart of her elegant folk sound. In the quiet "L'onde Amére" and the jazz-shuffle "Ailleurs," you'll hear Paris- not the real city, but the chic, romantic utopia where daylight is spent in cafes, sipping Cabernet and blowing smoke over discussions about existentialism. You'll hear the city that was once inhabited by the cultured and creative elite- Coco Chanel, Jean-Luc Godard, Serge Gainsbourg- who defined Paris as much as Paris defined them. Although Keren Ann is Dutch and Israeli by birth, her music originated in Paris. And like her idol Françoise Hardy, it all began with just a voice, an acoustic guitar, and an instinctive need to put the two together.
My introduction to Keren Ann began on the other side of the globe- the backstreets of Tokyo's Shibuya district where a Japanese Francophile set up shop to sell Brigitte Bardot singles and old issues of Salut Les Copains. He called his small store "Made In France." When I walked in, Keren Ann's second album La Disparition (2002) was playing on the stereo. I asked who was singing, but he wouldn't offer any names- only colorful comparisons. She was "the new Joni Mitchell," "a modern-day Françoise Hardy," "a gift wrapped from Paris." Finally he showed me the album and then launched into a 10-minute speech on his beloved discovery (pausing only to show clips of Keren Ann from a live DVD).
I left "Made In France" with two CDs- La Disparition and Keren Ann's first English-language album Not Going Anywhere- and the feeling that I had stumbled upon someone really special. Within songs like "Ailleurs" and "End Of May" I found the reasons why the clerk had been so taken by Keren Ann. It was the sincerity of her voice, the intimate acoustic settings, and the unhurried nature of her sound. Also, I had a deep conviction that Keren Ann was for real- not a phony folkie riding the Devendra Barnhart-led hippie-folk boom or a contrived "chanteuse" playing up the French connection. I could tell that Keren Ann makes music because she has to. It is in her blood.
"Working is the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning," she said during our meeting at her recording studio-cum-rehearsal space in Soho. "I can go 30 hours working straight without knowing what day it is." It is clear that Keren Ann has spent countless hours here. Guitars, cigarette butts, and empty Diet Coke cans litter the small studio, situated ten floors above bustling Broadway. Karen, her friend and violin player is on her way out the door when I arrive. They had been rehearsing for Keren Ann's weekly showcase at a downtown venue called the Living Room. When Keren Ann decided to come to New York to "baby-sit" the release of the American version of Not Going Anywhere, she booked two months of steady gigs.