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Keren Ann [Audio CD] KEREN ANN

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The fifth album from the Paris-and-New-York-based chanteuse is mesmerizing and beautiful all the way through. Unlike with, say, Mazzy Star or even Feist, Keren Ann shows that she can rise above the slyly sensual signing style to deliver actual croons. From the deliberately breathless vocal delivery to her own smartly minimalist and subtly layered production work, Keren Ann is the singer's finest work to date. Her voice remains the focal point, but intriguing instrumental choices dot the album, from the twisted, distorted guitars on "It Ain't No Crime" to the lovely flutes of "Harder Ships of the World." Just listen to the slowly-percolating "Lay Your Head Down," the album's first single. That song begins as an addictive combination of sparse guitar, hand claps, and crooning to gently accrue bluesy harmonica and guitar licks before drifting away in a layered wash of strings and Carl Orff-ish vocal flourishes. It sounds modern and from the more rarefied aspects of pop's past at the same time. You watch: Keren Ann just may prove to be Blue Note's smartest signing since that Norah Jones person. --Mike McGonigal