Katell Keineg
At The Mermaid Parade

(Honest Jon's Records)

I have to confess I have the peculiar habit (which I'm sure some would call "a little mania") of keeping a list of names of artists I like who could euphemistically be called "commercially not very relevant", and that I started keeping that list (which is constantly kept up-to-date) back in my teenage days in order not to lose track of those artists, given their somewhat marginal status and selective appeal. Sure, I suppose this could be considered a funny way to spend one's time, but at least it definitely served its purpose in a day and age when information was scarce, usually late, and hard to come by. But what about today, in the age of Internet, and of those thousand sources in real time?

Well, due to certain circumstances, starting from March, and for a few months, I didn't check my short list. So it was with great surprise that a couple of months ago I saw that a new Katell Keineg album had gone on sale... in March. Here I have to admit that though something similar had already happened with regards to High July - her previous album, released about six years before At The Mermaid Parade - it was with great surprise that I noticed "the silence of the Web": what do you mean, there are no reviews?

A look at the album cover confirmed to me that Katell Keineg decided to use a DIY approach once again. This time the album label is called Honest Jon's Records (a name, Honest Jon's, that up to now reminded me of a record shop in a "freaky" part of London back in the 70s; even the address - Ladbroke Grove, which to this day reminds me of the group Hawkwind and of Notting Hill Gate - looks the same). Provided I'm not mistaken, the CD was pressed in Germany. As I'll say in a minute, the recorded sound is really excellent, the recording sessions having taken place in a New York studio called The Maid's Room.

Looking at the list of featured instrumentalists, we see once again Dim Gurevich, who plays guitar, bass, piano, etc. Very fine performance by Ben Perowski on drums, there's also a rhythm section (Brian Geltner, drums; Matthew Morandi, bass) that appears on two tracks. Also, versatile contributions by Ed Pastorini on piano, Fender Rhode electric piano, etc. Katell Keineg is obviously on guitar and vocals. She also produced the album, with some help from Jack McKeever, who also recorded the sessions, and mixed the tracks, together with Katell Keineg.

At The Mermaid Parade is a very fine album, with a rich, warm sound that to me sounds as being totally analogue. Keineg's vocal approach here has the lively immediacy we usually associate with "live" performances (which I think they really are). I have to confess it was the sound of the album - so beautiful, but at the same time a bit unusual when it comes to some timbres and instrumental proportions as they appear in the mix - that made me listen to the album quite a few times, just to make sure that the enjoyment I felt while listening to the music was to be shared by fellow listeners. At times the vocals are enormous - check Thirteen, where it sounds like Katell Keineg is in our room, singing), instruments here mostly acting as a framework.

The only problem I encountered (it's an old story) is that there are no lyrics printed on the album cover. Which I find really annoying, since - from the little I understand - Keineg's tales move in different temporal dimensions, which doesn't make things easy for this listener. Plus, her language is rich (just looking at the titles I had to search for two words: olden, and calenture). Sometimes (also thanks to a very vivid recorded sound) things are a bit easier (Old Friend, I Fell In Love With The World). Other times, understanding just a few isolated fragments is quite frustrating: "Imported beer for three dollars fifty-eight" (...) "And the beer is kicking in" (Summer Loving Song). Or, "Anyway, what I really meant to say is, 'Get Over Yourself', as they say, 'You need Americanized Media'" coming from the "funky-disco" with many voices called World Of Sex. Quite paradoxically, the only track where one is able to listen to the complete text, commas included, is her cover of Big Star's Thirteen (off their album #1 Record), which Shirley Manson had sung with the group Garbage at the time of their second album, Version 2.0.

A piano with reverb, quite Lennon-like, opens At The Mermaid Parade, with two vocal lines placed in separate channels, fine melodic development, and an unexpected bridge. A fine "French Folk" tune in 3/4, St. Martin has good drums and a nice piano. The brief, pianistic, Old Friend brings us to the aforementioned Summer Loving Song, a circular ballad with appropriate work from the rhythm section. To me, I Fell In Love With The World sounds on the sad side, it has an excellent instrumental coda from the piano. The Arsehole Song has an ironic, sing-along, quality.

The cover of Thirteen is quite moving. Olden Days sounds like a jig, with nice backing from the electric piano. Dear Ashley sounds like a letter, while (no lyrics!) I could not decide about the many possible meanings of World Of Sex (a track that has many excellent vocal moments in an album that has lots of them). The brief, melancholic, Dig A Pit takes us to the appropriate album closer: Calenture, a ballad starring acoustic guitar, piano, a rhythm section, and an electric guitar played tremolo.

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2010

CloudsandClocks.net | Dec. 4, 2010