Kate St. John

Indescribable Night

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St. John is a classically trained wind player with one foot in a sort of continental cabaret pop song tradition and the other in late nineteenth century chamber music. If Edith Piaf had commissioned songs from Erik Satie, they might have come out sounding something like this, or if Schubert and Goethe had been 19th-century French bohemians instead of, well, 18th-century German bohemians. On first listen, St. John's fairly sophisticated compositions come across as gently and delightfully tuneful; on second listen, strangely enough, she comes across as an insufferably pretentious continental wannabe. But by the third time through, the genuine, delicate melodic appeal of these songs reasserts itself, though you may still find yourself wondering from time to time if she isn't putting you on with the Euro-kitten bit. The opening track is a very lovely setting of an excerpt from Alfred Lord Tennyson's "The Lotus Eaters." There aren't many popsters who could pull this off, and her classical training helps -- harp, strings and woodwinds create a wispy but compelling backdrop for her equally wispy but surprisingly strong voice. "Paris Skies" sets the tone for the rest of this album, which celebrates a sort of oblique romanticism and all things French; one instrumental is titled "Chat Voyeur" and another, called "Fireflies," sounds for all the world like turn-of-the-century Parisian salon music. She covers "Le Premier Bonheur du Jour" and memorializes two lost Sarajevan friends in the aching "On the Bridge." St. John does occasionally flirt with insufferability -- for all of her conspicuous literacy, the song "Wherefore Art Thou" is based on the mistaken belief that the word "wherefore" means "where" -- but this album never fails to be very, very pretty, with enough substance to counteract an occasionally overweening sweetness.

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