Regina Spektor, with Keane

While taking a break from their efforts to emancipate Extraordinary Machine from Epic, Free-Fiona protesters might try Regina Spektor's Soviet Kitsch. Much as a caffeine addict in need of a fix will set aside Coke-or-Pepsi preferences, so connoisseurs of dramatic piano-plinking songwriters should consume this smashing substitute without sweating its quirkiness-to-brooding ratio. The Russian-born Spektor moved to New York in 1989, where she merged her classical piano training with fresh blues, jazz and rock influences. Soviet Kitsch, her major-label debut, incorporates all these elements on songs that shuffle, swing and swagger. On record, she lets subtle shifts in her phrasing mark her changing characters, but in concert she completely inhabits -- and occasionally radically revamps -- her fictional subjects. Spontaneous vocal dynamics tend to baffle backing bands, which is why Spektor performs alone. She straps on a guitar for "Your Honor," Soviet Kitsch's serrated collaboration with punk band Kill Kenada, and drums with one hand while playing the melody with the other on "Poor Little Rich Boy." Unlike the dour Apple, Spektor smiles frequently and interacts amiably with her audiences. Once they've sampled Spektor, Fiona's fans might have a new cause to champion: getting their new favorite artist on the airwaves.
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Andrew Miller