The idea itself isn’t revolutionary. Admittedly, a folky female singer-songwriter isn’t an unheard-of thing. The catch is finding one who is neither overproduced, artificially morose, flowery-skirt-wearing nor, well, a bit bland. Regina Spektor – a Russian brought up in the US, a classically trained pianist with a love of jazz – is anything but bland. Her sound is a winning fusion of lively and captivating melodies, dreamlike, quizzical lyrics, spiralling vortexes of Dresden Dolls-esque pianos, and a voice as forceful and versatile as Joanna Newsom’s. Spektor’s varied background allows her to craft a highly distinctive sound – she is as vitriolic as Patti Smith filtered through a sort of faux innocence in a surreal fairytale atmosphere.
Loved by critics, hipsters and normal people alike, Spektor is one of those rare multifaceted artists that can be relaxing as soft background music and rewarding as an intricate work of art, often simultaneously. Taken separately, the songs are gems – from the eerie cries of ‘long live the king’ on the striking opener Oedipus to the ghostly, breathy repetition of ‘I don’t exist’ on Daniel Cowman to the grand but delicate Us. Mary Ann…, nevertheless, is a collection compiled from Spektor’s three previous releases, and predictably lacks the tight-knit harmony and unity of her latest, well-nigh faultless Soviet Kitsch. Still, not a bad place to start.