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LAUREN HOFFMAN  Choreography  Fargo  ****

This album kind of slides into your affections. Its opening track, Broken, is an achingly beautiful slice of romantic regret set against a backdrop of twinkling musical invention, all echoes and floating notes. And it doesn't end there. This is American Lauren Hoffman's third album but the first to reach these ears. And if the references are obvious - a slightly less uptight Laura Veirs, a more upfront Beth Gibbons - the music is no less memorable for that. On her website (, Hoffman cites the spirit of Jeff Buckley, and there is certainly mystery and passion aplenty in tracks such as White Sheets, Solipsist and the chamber pop of Love Gone Wrong. Apparently Hoffman lost her way on her first two albums; she has regained it here.

Joe Breen

PEGGY HONEYWELLFaint HummsAgenda ***

San Francisco resident Peggy Honeywell follows up her interesting debut (Honey for Dinner) with what is effectively an unplugged set. The influences are hardcore roots, folk and country, and none of the haunting 15 tracks lasts longer than 2.30 minutes. Honeywell's slight, strange but attractive voice sounds like a field recording, while her sparse instrumentation is limited to her guitar and banjo. Yet she manages to create an intimacy that is oddly compelling - almost like word pictures. Not surprising, therefore, that Peggy Honeywell is actually the nom du disc of multi-award-winning visual artist Clare Rojas, whose distinctive work appears on the sleeve.

Joe Breen

FRANCES BLACK & FRIENDSThis Love Will CarryDara***

Frances Black's vocal fragility whispers of an overweening desire to be loved that's won her a swathe of admirers and a few detractors along her life's colourful and often tragic byways. This double CD collection is an able distillation of Black's repertoire, ranging from the highs of her collaboration with Kieran Goss (characterised by the impish Forever Lovin' You), the Black Family and Arcady, and her daughter Aoife (on The Hills of South Armagh). But threaded throughout these 25 songs is the suspicion that hers is a talent that still yearns to go that extra mile. Bathed in arrangements that scream pathos, Black's appeal veers towards a familiarity that risks ultimately breeding contempt. An edgier producer would surely lure much more from such a haunted, sparkling talent.

Siobhán Long