Next Stop, Underworld

If an artist scribbles away in her cold garret and no one is around to hear her songs, does she make a living?

Well, sort of. Katell Keineg has managed to make a go of it, despite a wary relationship with the star maker machinery (to borrow a phrase from Joni Mitchell). What little press she's received is littered with phrases like "stubborn artistic vision," "contract dispute" and "brink of fame." But music is more interesting than the music business, so writers and critics invariably get around to describing her voice: earthy, ethereal, aching, husky, treacly, wood-smoked.

I first heard Katell at a songwriter swap at Milestones a hundred years ago. I don't remember what she sang or who else performed, but her voice? Like it was yesterday. I like to believe there's enough people like me, who've seen her and can't forget and can't stop including her on mix tapes, that some kind of low-grade, chronic fame was unavoidable.

Of course, a lengthy profile in The New York Times Magazine doesn’t hurt. Katell’s biggest moment in the media spotlight, a possible turning point for her career, came in the summer of 2006. The article describes a live performance of "There You Go," a beautiful, mysterious love song. And it notes something I never caught: an echo of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Towards the end of the song, Katell sings: "I turned. I don't know why I did it, but I did." Next stop, underworld.

From that same summer, five years ago, here she is...