The piano makes tight, repeated runs while violins flutter – it’s the acoustic equivalent of butterflies in the stomach. At last they break into long, climbing strokes as Regina Spektor’s inimitable voice travels one divinely long and wide vibrato. That’s the moment that makes “Us” the one song you’ve heard if you’ve heard of Regina Spektor, who will play at St. Andrew’s Hall Friday at 7 p.m.
Spektor’s songs are character sketches, personal confessions and fanciful vignettes, and their one constant is her adaptive voice. She croons, spits words out, uses her voice percussively and sings with a vocal freedom that allows her to be at once wild and disciplined. Her voice is a dream, a highly unusual instrument that will floor listeners.
Her new album, Begin to Hope, which was released this summer, has more of a studio feel than her quirky breakout record Soviet Kitsch, but both freely experiment with song styles. Spektor, who fled as a child from Soviet Moscow to New York City with her family, clearly draws on wide influences. She is a classically trained pianist, and shades of Randy Newman’s sound comes out in her piano-driven “Summer in the City,” a self-effacing ballad with a buffer of humor, and the deliberate way Spektor rolls through the upper and lower registers of her voice call Joni Mitchell to mind.
Occasionally she edges on gimmickry, but she commits so fully to these explorations that it feels sincere. And while she often rides the line between infantile and incredible, it’s hard for audiences to boo her inspired babbling even if they don’t understand it at first: they’re too busy being awestruck. On “Music Box,” a bonus track on Begin to Hope, Spektor sings from the perspective of a music box who wishes she could “sing another melody completely” – this particular music box would rather sing about soap bubbles, and as she tries to override her programmed song she finds herself choking and hopelessly gulping words.
This summer at a record store in New York, Spektor played a concert to support Begin to Hope. The eminently calm and good-natured crowd peered at Spektor from atop crates of CD cases and through cracks in shelves. Sitting at her piano, Spektor seemed overwhelmed by the crowd’s wholehearted attention. Throughout the performance, Spektor shared knowing glances with strangers in the crowd. At one moment she had to look up and away because she was smiling too much to sing.
The chance to see Spektor live at St. Andrew’s Hall is rare and shouldn’t be passed up. “Suppose I kept on singin’ love songs / Just to break my own fall?” she sing. There’s little danger of that, because those who hear her will hold her up, too.
Friday at 7 p.m.
At St. Andrew’s Hall