Keren Ann isn’t the first artist to release a self-titled album later into his or her career. Joss Stone just did it. But while Stone’s album — also a collection of mixed genres, albeit nothing like the genres Ann likes to dabble in (jazz, pop, folk, and even American guitar rock) — actually represents some sort of declaration of intent, Ann’s fifth album in seven years declares nothing about the artist that we haven’t heard before. The lyrics and musical experiments all sound new, sure, not to mention as sweet and summery, but they also sound old. In fact, this follow-up to 2004’s much-lauded Nolita represents not so much an evolution for the French chanteuse as it does a refinement of what she’s been doing all along.
But somehow, in that refinement, Ann’s breezy, uncomplicated marriage of genres, along with the substance of her lyrics (which isn’t much), have blended together. Her cover art even seems to suggest just this, as her own simple and muted image blurs easily with the stark white background — which could also suggest the audio blandness of white noise.
It’s not that there’s a Muzak quality to this album, but after a while, after Keren Ann manages to surround you and fill you up with a kind of calm —with the exception of a few songs like “Lay Your Head Down,” “Where No Endings End,” and “It Ain’t No Crime” (which effectively steals some of the White Stripes’ bluesy stomp) — it passes over you and leaves you behind. Just as empty as you started, but with an absent smile on your face.
— Cole Haddon
A Woman Scorned
Tammy Wynette once warned, “If You Let Him Drive You Crazy (He Will).” The Judds took the blame off themselves by saying “Mama, He’s Crazy.” Patsy Cline, with help from Willie Nelson, willingly confessed she was “Crazy.”
On Miranda Lambert’s sophomore album, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the young country singer takes a less subtle approach.
The title track closely resembles a recent chartbusting song from another Southern blond bombshell: Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats.”
But if these two women were competing to prove who is more deranged, Lindale, Texas-native Lambert wins hands down. Underwood merely keys her ex’s car; Lambert actually brings a pistol to the bar her ex frequents, but reluctantly leaves it in her car.
And unlike the more saccharine Underwood, Lambert actually co-wrote the lyrics to the song as she did for eight out of the 11 tracks on the album.
Much like her platinum debut album, Kerosene, Lambert’s sophomore release carries angry undertones with “Down,” “Desperation,” and the opener, “Gunpowder and Lead,” a domestic-abuse story in the mold of Garth Brooks’s “The Thunder Rolls.”
The rage is evident in “Gunpowder” when Lambert sings, “His fist is big but my gun’s bigger/ he’ll find out when I pull the trigger.”
But for all the vengeful outlaw tales, which sometimes rely more on drama than substance, Lambert can craft smooth ballads surprisingly well, most evidently in the highly personal “Love Letters.”
Besides actually creating her own songs, something that seems a bit of an option rather than a necessity in Nashville today, Lambert shines in her choice of covers that are not generally associated with commercial country-radio hits. Lambert’s nasally pitch complements songs by Gillian Welch, Patty Griffin, and an Emmylou Harris favorite, “Easy from Now On.”
A losing finalist on the 2003 reality show Nashville Star, Lambert establishes on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that she may have lost the battle but is winning the war — gunpowder, lead, and all.
— Ryan Markmann