Recording period between
Singer/songwriter Keren Ann Zeidel, who records bilingual neo-folk music under the name Keren Ann, was born in Israel in 1974 to a Dutch-Javanese mother and a Russian-Israeli father. She was nine when her parents bought her a guitar, on which she learned to play songs by Joni Mitchell and Serge Gainsbourg. In the years to come, she would also learn to play the harmonica and the clarinet. Zeidel and her family, including a brother and sister, lived in Israel and Holland before settling in Paris, France, when she was 11.
In the 1990s, Zeidel met musician/arranger Benjamin Biolay, with whom she would form a fruitful partnership. Later that decade, she had a small part (as Judith) in Alexandre Arcady's K, and in 1998 she released a handful of singles (including "I+I+I") as a member of Shelby. The singles attracted little attention, but Zeidel bounced back by releasing her full-length solo debut, La Biographie de Luka Philipsen, in 2000. On it, she combined trip-hop, folk, and French pop to sublime effect, citing Russian literature, Jewish folk music, French poetry, Bob Dylan, and Suzanne Vega (whose "Luka" is also referenced in the title) as influences for her unique sound.
La Biographie was enthusiastically received in Europe, garnering favorable comparisons to Françoise Hardy, Portishead, Beth Orton, and Dido. In addition, it earned several nominations for the French equivalent of the Grammy, the Victoires, including Best New Discovery (Artist and Album) and Best Song of the Year. One of its songs, "Jardin d'Hiver" (co-written by Biolay) also became a hit for Henri Salvador, whose best-selling album Chambre Avec Vue contained five songs co-written by Zeidel and Biolay.
In 2001, Zeidel returned the favor by assisting with the writing of Biolay's Rose Kennedy. Her follow-up to La Biographie, La Disparition (The Disappearance), came out the following year. She recorded a version in English at the same time. While preparing the album, Zeidel listened to a lot of Beatles, Chet Baker, and Tom Waits recordings, resulting in a bluesier, jazzier sound. As with La Biographie, much of the material was written with Biolay. Late in 2003, the English-language Not Going Anywhere arrived and was distributed by Blue Note in America the following summer.
After relocating to New York, Keren Ann released the half-French, half-English Nolita in 2004, which marked the first time she'd worked without Biolay, choosing instead to write/produce most of the tracks herself. She followed it with a self-titled release in 2007, earning some of the warmest praise of her career in the process. In subsequent years, she composed music for the European TV channel Arte, and wrote and produced for actress, model, and singer Emmanuelle Seigner (the wife of Roman Polanski). In 2011, she returned to her solo career with 101, another self-produced collection of folk, dreamy pop, and French chanson. Keren Ann has also worked with Barði Jóhannsson as Lady & Bird, producing an album in 2003 and a live album with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in 2009. ~ Kathleen C. Fennessy