Pop, Kathryn Williams,

Dancehouse, Manchester

This is the musical equivalent of a late night on someone's sofa: where love and laughter come tumbling out with secrets. The stage set consists of a standard lamp, giving proceedings the deceptively cosy feel of a living room. Centrestage, cut glass voice framed perfectly by her band, our giddy host chuckles the introductions to her insightful songs, almost all from her new Old Low Light album, about "love, loss, death... and death".

Laughing at herself means she can detach herself from her often disquieting material: "I'll give you a warning three songs from the end so that if you're desperate for a wee, you can think, 'Shall I hold on?'" she says, then tiptoes into Wolf, a quietly horrifying song about male control.

Retaining the musicians who made her cottage industry records is a masterstroke. Alex Tustin may muck up the odd drumbeat but these longtime friends have a telepathic relationship with the singer that makes the music impossible to pin down.

At her best, you never know whether you're about to laugh or cry. Songs about sudden death nestle next to lyrics about knickers. Before the song Beatles, she tells a hilarious story about picking up a hitchhiker in Liverpool who claimed to have invented the Fab Four by mind power.

Perhaps Williams's line "I was searching for something divine, and ended up making the mundane into my shrine" best sums up her domain. Like Morrissey (certainly not a musical soundalike), her territory is the ordinary, and what she finds there is extraordinary.

· At Bristol St Georges (0117-923 0359) tonight; Cambridge Junction (01223 511511) tomorrow; and Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (0151-709 3789).


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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