The "If a Tree Falls in the Forest and Nobody is Around to Hear It...." Award
By David M. Goldstein | 9 December 2010
At the Mermaid Parade
Oh, Katell. Four albums in seventeen years isn’t the most solid of business models, but your 300 or so North American fans will take what we can get. Far from being a household name, her talent is such that she could easily be as successful as say, Cat Power, were she not so seemingly devoted to flying under the radar. I would likely have no idea of her existence if not for my wife’s rabid fandom, roped in by what I’m told was a spellbinding performance at a Jeff Buckley memorial concert roughly ten years ago.
And she’s plenty fantastic, a Brittany-born, Wales-raised singer-songwriter with a soaring voice and rapier wit, equally likely to perform a song in Portuguese as cover her beloved Super Furry Animals (third song on Mwng  to be exact). Her best known song remains 1993’s “Gulf of Araby,” and that’s mostly because Natalie Merchant covered it on a live record (maybe helping to answer the age old question of “how exactly does Katell make money?”). A brief, reportedly unpleasant late ’90s stint on Elektra aside, it’s not as if the dearth of material stems from a dogged fight with a label. Rather, Katell seems to suffer from a small scale case of Wrens-itis, irritating her cult fanbase by a shoulder shrug refusal to record, yet consistently playing a handful of gigs each year as a reminder that she’s still a going concern.
Said gigs often consist of a week-long residency at New York City’s tiny Living Room, with usually just her and an acoustic guitar, always attended by the same fifty people. Back in 2006 she actually played the 500 cap. Bowery Ballroom in an attempt to capitalize on an interest surge resulting from a lengthy profile in The New York Times Magazine, despite having no new material to promote. And wouldn’t ‘cha know, the same fifty souls from the Living Room gigs simply showed up at the Bowery instead, making for a somewhat uncomfortable situation.
At the Mermaid Parade dropped in typically inauspicious fashion this past April. It’s unsurprisingly excellent; her one record that comes the closest to capturing the unadorned intimacy of her live shows. It’s also a clearinghouse of sorts, containing recent material, but also some songs that have been in her live rotation as far back as 2004 (a running onstage joke being that the “infant son” of “Dear Ashley” is now practically old enough to drive). It features two separate tributes to Coney Island, a Big Star cover, and “Calenture,” a long time live favorite that’s arguably the prettiest song I’ve heard this year, and simply one of Katell’s strongest ballads to date. Sadly, the only people who will actually listen to Mermaid Parade are probably the same handful of people who already own her other three albums, and that’s a shame, though I’m guessing she won’t mind too much. Tickets to the Living Room shows will remain easy to come by for the rest of us, and I feverishly await her next album, likely to arrive in 2017.