Most contemporary French pop makes frothiness a virtue--the songs might tackle sad themes, but they rarely sound sad. Keren Ann's songwriting is different: there's a delicious melancholy to her music that's clear even on her first two albums, where she sang in French. Not every song on her first disc in English, last year's Not Going Anywhere, was sad, but the acoustic production and her whispery but flexible voice gave it a coherent feel. Not Going Anywhere had a dialed-down tone, so her subtle melodies sneaked past me at first. But after three or four listens to her new album, Nolita (Metro Blue/Blue Note), recorded last year in Paris and New York, the tunes insinuated themselves deep in my memory and drove me back to her previous albums, which struck me as equally brilliant. "Chelsea Burns," with quietly strummed guitar and slashing violins that recall the gentlest tunes Lou Reed wrote for the Velvet Underground, in time reveals a smoldering intensity. And "Roses and Hips," like many of her songs, sounds like a lost gem from the flower power 60s. For this, her Chicago debut, she performs solo. Sun 3/20, 8:30 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, 312-362-9707, $12.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jan Welters.