It may have stopped raining in Southern California, but clouds still covered the Hotel Cafe on Thursday night for the double bill of Keren Ann and A Girl Called Eddy. The two transcontinental warblers offered sets filled with melancholy ballads of romantic recrimination and regret, delivered in hushed vocals and cloaked in diffused pop classicism, making for a evening of gorgeously modulated yearning.
Darkly exotic in the manner of Anna Karina or Francoise Hardy, Keren Ann’s songs have the gauzy, existential black-and-white beauty of ’60s New Wave films. With one foot in New York and the other in Paris, they inhabit a world where fog hangs above the rain-slicked streets as lovers part in the shadows of cathedrals. The memory of a departed lover is so painful that walking in their old neighborhood burns her feet.
The songs, mostly from last year’s “Not Going Anywhere” and the upcoming “Nolita” (both Metro Blue/Blue Note) are an intoxicating mix of folk, cabaret and the blank ache of the Velvet Underground’s third album. They’re sung (in both French and English) in a bruised whisper — part Nico and part Marianne Faithfull — that’s all elegant ache.
Accompanied by Jason Hart’s sympathetic piano, and sitting, one leg crossed over the other, head tilted toward her guitar, she’s a modern chanteuse, and one that’s impossible not to fall in love with.
A Girl Called Eddy’s (full name Erin Moran, and not to be confused with the “Happy Days” actress) self-titled Anti-/Epitaph album was one of last year’s most welcome discoveries: a moody, widescreen breakup album, filled with unexpected images such as tears “scattered like newspapers” on the street, and lovers sitting in an empty cafe “just us and our mistakes.” She draws you into her plush world and invites you to have a good cry. But it was questionable how it would translate live. Touring without a drummer (the club’s postage-stamp stage was a tight squeeze for Moran and her two guitarists), her live set put the focus squarely on the songs and her voice.
The London-by-way-of-Neptune, N.J., singer has a marvelously dusky voice reminiscent of Dusty Springfield and writes songs that can stand comparison to Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb.
She sets the tone by opening the set performing “Heartache,” accompanied by a record played on an old-fashioned kiddie turntable. Its thin tone, scratches and pops let you know she wasn’t going to try to re-create the album’s sound. But the two guitars (one twelve-string) and her keyboard playing (along with an occasional computerized drum part) were thick enough that the arrangements never sounded undernourished.
“The Long Goodbye,” one of the album’s highlights, took a countrypolitan turn with Shez Sheridan’s lap-steel guitar, and the trimmed-down “Somebody Hurt You” made an even greater case to be considered the best Bacharach-styled pop song to be written in many a year.
Keren Ann and A Girl Called Eddy play two dates in New York: March 9 at Fez and 10 at Joe’s Pub.