Friday, April 16, 2010

At the Mermaid Parade by Katell Keineg

Right now if you shake the nearest music tree at least 15 female singer-songwriters will come tumbling down. From sarky bedsit divas to nouvelles-Kate Bushes they are ubiquitous. Walk into any shop on your local High Street and I guarantee Lily Allen will be warbling away on the sound system. Female angst is very much in musical fashion but, like menstruation, these things go in cycles.

Sometime last year in the back room of the Vulcan hotel, Cardiff, through yet another drunken fog, I saw something curious: a woman singing in Breton. It was Katell Keineg. So struck was I by her performance that I made a point of checking out her back catalogue and was left wondering why this woman's work isn't better known.

She has been doing the singer-songwriter bit with some distinction for the best part of twenty years. Born in Brittany, brought up in Wales, she’s followed a peripatetic musical path that has taken her all over the world. Most notably she was an integral part of the Sin-é scene in New York, where she performed and hung out with Jeff Buckley. She’s also worked with Iggy Pop, and Allen Ginsberg.

Her new release At The Mermaid Parade is the best thing I've heard so far this year. Quite simply - it's superb. Being a sucker for a sad song it is the album’s more melancholic moments that resonate most. The eponymous opening track sets the tone with its sense of sadness and loss. St Martin is a dark, brooding ballad with shades (I think) of The Handsome Family. The elegiac mood continues with Old Friend which is haunting and beautiful and will make you weep. Whilst her reinterpretation of Big Star’s Thirteen is breathtaking.

But, hey, it’s not all doom and gloom. Summer Loving Song is a joyous (and increasingly woozy) celebration of hot days and female friendship. Sisters continue to do it for themselves on the amusing The Arsehole Song which focuses on the many shortcomings of men. We need to up our game, apparently. This album’s most curious track is World of Sex, the meaning of which is probably best left between Katell Keineg and her therapist. The record concludes with the dreamy Calenture (it’s a tropical delirium) and a return once more to the elegiac.

Essentially At The Mermaid Parade is a Romantic (that’s with a capital R) offering in that emotions here, whether happy or otherwise, are expressed with a real intensity. One song on the album is even entitled I Fell in Love With the World. Beyond her cityscapes nature and myth are lurking, too, which only adds to the sense of Sturm und Drang. This is a mature, intelligent work that reveals the well-travelled Katell Keineg to be at the top of her game.

At the Mermaid Parade by Katell Keineg, issued by Honest Jon's records, is on sale now. Check it out.