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Keren Ann is somewhat of an atypical chanteuse. She doesn’t go for wispy and airy with the kind of breathy lyrics that might blow away if they could somehow become an actual object. Her vocals have the sort of weight and warmth that don’t hold any punches and as much as she seems sensitive, she can rock out in a way that makes for a great stage presence in particular. At the same time, she is radiant and genuine singing her songs that fall into a lush and beautiful melancholy, which is a space altogether removed from the heavier guitar rifts sometimes featured so prominently. There’s an acute sense of longing in many of her lyrics and melodies that tend to haunt the listener long after the song has ended, even when it’s least expected.
Her 90 minute long performance Monday night when she finally returned to visit Chicago after staying away for far too long was no exception to this. One couldn’t help revel in “Lay Your Head Down” “Chelsea Burns” or the velvety “I’m Not Going Anywhere.” She showed more of her striking personality in “Sailor & Widow” which caused her to alternate between her spooky story telling voice and return to her more typically strong singing voice on the choruses. Throughout both her new and older songs, Keren Ann was accompanied by a trumpet player who made the songs take on an increasingly jazz influenced feel which fits the “Blue Note Record Label“http://www.bluenote.com/ArtistMain.aspx?ArtistId=920597 one can find her releases on.
Given her gorgeous French lyrics on some of her recorded songs, It is always a little strange that Keren Ann doesn’t sing more songs in French when she visits. Considering a significant portion of the audience members are always primarily French speaking, they would surely appreciate hearing these songs. It might be a little unexpected to a non resident in a place like Chicago vs. Montréal but the French population certainly come out to support artists like Keren Ann (as well as other French musicians and French films).
Unfortunately, the even greater disappointment than this as well as the major downfall of an otherwise flawless evening stems from the fact that Keren Ann’s newest record 101 is quite weak in comparison to her previous five releases. It’s clear Keren Ann is going for something that is more appealing to a wider audience who might like hackneyed middle of the road lyrics that have unfortunately already been overused in the canon of songwriting. Similarly, the music written to accompany the mediocre words is far too generic and easy to forget. It’s the kind of thing that makes for decent radio fodder but that’s about as far as it goes.
All of that wouldn’t be nearly so devastating if we didn’t all know how amazingly talented Keren Ann is, of course. The fact that she has proven time and time again to have the abilities to make us all swoon as if we are experiencing her intimate stories and insights ourselves is a point that cannot be emphasized enough. At the same time, her lyrics in the past often seemed honest and allowed an intimate insight into a woman we all became fond of and wanted to know more about. Unfortunately, it was obvious whenever she would play a new song, not just to fans who are familiar with mainly her old material but because of the stark contrast between styles and level of depth in the songwriting. The discrepancy is a blatant one and unfavorable to the tracks of her new release.
Keren Ann comes off as a friendly and extremely lovable woman and human being and it would be crushing to think of this newest direction as anything more than a passing moment in an otherwise stellar career. It’s still worth seeing her live this tour because she plays so many old songs that immediately redeem any of the recent lesser tracks. She’s also very sweet on stage with her little anecdotes and her clear appreciation of her audience. Let’s just hope her next release is a return to form, though, or it really will be quite a tragedy.
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