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Regina Spektor

Begin to Hope (Sire)

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Regina Spektor's tricky tongue and fading Russian accent separate her from the ever-expanding crowd of Tori Amos/ Fiona Apple wannabes who sport "funky" hats and own well-worn piano stools. Begin to Hope might be less histrionic than 2004's Soviet Kitsch, but it's still great fun to bear witness to this N.Y.C. songbird's post-hip-hop Baldwin-pop and quirky balladry.

"Better" is the widest-screen song she's ever penned, a populist anthem strengthened by the steady hand of Strokes guitarist Nick Valenti. "20 Years of Snow" finds Spektor alternating unpredictably between Björklike spoken/sung impressionism and agitated rapping to the ADD rhythms of scattered piano and sprinkled strings. The album's pick-to-click, "That Time," falls more into a rock vein, with gully-scraping guitars buttressing a litany of chatty reminiscences about old times good, bad, and all-out horrific, as she slurs, yelps, and riffs her lyrics.

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