'Lay Your Head Down' and the Language of Beauty

Thursday's Pick

  • Song: "Lay Your Head Down"
  • Artist: Keren Ann
  • CD: Keren Ann
  • Genre: Pop
Francophone singer-songwriter Keren Ann sings in English on "Lay Your Head Down."

Francophone singer-songwriter Keren Ann sings in English on "Lay Your Head Down." hide caption

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It's hard out there for a Francophone singer-songwriter whose name isn't Serge Gainsbourg or Edith Piaf, at least in America. It's not just a xenophobic "Freedom Fries" thing — after all, Americans like French electronica (Air, Justice, Daft Punk) just fine. It's probably just that the songs are sung in a language most Americans don't understand, which in turn neutralizes the subtleties and wordplay that define so many of the best French chansons.

The delicate-voiced Keren Ann started her career making albums in French, but on her third CD, 2003's Not Going Anywhere, English reared its head. Her U.S. breakthrough album, 2004's indie- and AAA-straddling Nolita, mixed French and English, winning her raves from Anglophones and Francophones alike. But for her gorgeous new eponymous disc, Keren Ann returns to English — and it's easy to forget that this French singer of Israeli-Dutch-Indonesian heritage is anything but American.

"Lay Your Head Down" sounds like a Cowboy Junkies tribute to Velvet Underground, or something from a phantom second volume of Yo La Tengo's acoustic- and covers-heavy Fakebook CD. But where those bands might turn the song's motorik rhythm into a clangy freakout, Keren Ann's bridge comes with a gentle harmonica solo that's seconded by a guitar playing tiny licks that could be dropped straight into "Waiting for My Man." Maybe that's her European side: keeping matters reserved rather than giving in to North American bombast. But her music is polyglot, at least in this sense: All languages understand beauty.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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