On the cover of Keren Ann's sixth album, 101, the Parisian songwriter of Dutch and Israeli heritage looks like a fashionable film noir gangster moll. A black-and-white photo shows her coolly eyeing a pistol as if she's just done in a duplicitous paramour who lies in a puddle of blood just outside the frame.
The sleek image is an accurate indicator of the musical contents within, where the coolly detached arrangements of "All the Beautiful Girls" and "Blood on My Hands" mask the violence, emotional or otherwise, that lurks beneath the songs' shiny surfaces.
"This is the whole idea of making music to me," says the 37-year-old singer, whose last name is Zeidel, talking on the phone from her apartment in Montmartre. "To take things that are cruel and make them beautiful. You know, I've seen death and I've seen blood, and it's part of me, but I don't have to scream it out loud.
"This is my way of saying it, with tenderness and melancholy."
Zeidel, who recorded and produced the album in Paris, Israel, and Iceland, says, "I like to create contrasts. I like to create warmth with the lyrics and the story, but then contrast it with a very clinical environment. It may not show on the surface, but I'm very into aesthetics when it comes to sounds. In the studio, I have a lush approach to sound to go with every pigment of every instrument."
When she plays Johnny Brenda's in Fishtown on Friday, it will be her third Philadelphia gig this year. In March she did the Tin Angel, and in April she teamed up with Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of The Roots for the Philly-Paris Lockdown classical-pop mash-up that played the Kimmel Center as part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.
Calling that project "very special," Zeidel, who collaborated with Thompson on arrangements via trans-Atlantic e-mail before a few days of rehearsals in Philadelphia, says that "it was nice to see how the arrangements made by each of us blended together into a one-hour piece."
She won't bite at the suggestion, though, that the Lockdown could have been improved by increasing her own onstage role. "I didn't feel that way because my arrangements were all over, and I often feel that my contribution to a project like that is through production and string writing." She's hoping that the Kimmel performance doesn't turn out to be a one-off and the Lockdown has a chance to evolve. "I'm crossing my fingers," she says. "I would love that."