This, the first (mostly) English-language set from French singer Patricia Kaas, highlights the sharp, sexual smoldering that’s made her a big star in Europe over the past decade. What’s lacking is Kaas’s stridency — the rhythmic aggression and the verbal acerbity of her French-language albums, which feel like a kick in the face on her earlier recordings (all on Rien ne s’arrête) of "Mon mec à moi," "Mademoiselle chante le blues," "Quand Jimmy dit," and "Il me dit que je suis belle."
As tiny and almost as birdlike as Edith Piaf, Kaas has proven capable of recapturing Piaf’s presence — her alto can ambush the listener ready for the intimacy of cabaret but not for such toughness. Here she sings smoothly and slowly, a moody and relaxing approach that recalls, rather too closely, the work of Sade — indeed, Piano Bar was produced by Sade’s producer, Robin Millar. The strategy is similar to that of Le mot de passe, Kaas’s 1999 French-language session, which was produced by the sweet-voiced Pascal Obispo (a big French pop star in his own right) and which, perhaps because it sounds so much like an Obispo CD, failed to revive Kaas’s career. On Piano Bar, however, most Americans will be hearing her for the first time, and it will help that Sade has kept such a low profile of late. For all the release’s minor faults, the restraint of Kaas’s performances — particularly on "My Man," "Un homme et une femme," "Les moulins de mon cœur," "Where Do I Begin," and the Jacques Brel classic "If You Go Away" — generates a romantic attraction so intense that only the power of understatement keeps it from devastating everything.