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101 (2011)

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Keren Ann

Keren Ann followed her breakout success of 2007 with a long hiatus from her recording contract, although she remained busy with a host of varying projects. On the surface, her return, 101, has an odd dichotomy. The lyrics and songs (“My Name Is Trouble,” “Blood on My Hands”) speak of violence, as does the cover shot of Keren holding a pistol, but her production and arrangements are just as light and subtle as 2007's Keren Ann (except for a pair of productions that, Feist-like, could earn chart placings). The majority of this material is far too complex and studied to be fully appreciated at the coffeehouse or shopping market; these songs float and fly based on their lyrical and production subtleties. Granted, the opener is a simple pop song (perhaps deceptively simple), but the second song, “Run with You,” moves at a glacial pace, achingly, and reaches a climax with strings wrapped around Keren's bewitching vocals. Her composition skills have clearly grown from the past, based perhaps on her work on film and television scores (as well as an opera). At times, they clearly outpace her singing and lyrics, which often betray the fact that English is a second language. Still, Keren Ann remains a striking songwriter (listen to the interesting device she employs on the title track for proof), while her range of musical techniques has grown. ~ John Bush