Sarabeth Tucek, The Social, London

The Social, London

The missing link between Marianne Faithful and Emily the Strange, Sarabeth Tucek is as fragile and slight as her sparse torch songs, her hair and eyes as dark as her moody, country-flecked sound. Her thousand-yard stare has the same mesmerising pull as the bittersweet words she utters so quietly it is as if she doesn't want them to leave her.

Or maybe she is worried who will hear them. Tucek's first single, the sublime Something for You, originally appeared on the Brian Jonestown Massacre's 2005 EP, We Are the Radio (frontman Anton Newcombe re-christened the song Seer); Tucek herself can be glimpsed on stage with the Massacre in the documentary DiG! just moments before Newcombe kicks a heckler in the face.

With Tucek firmly distancing herself from Newcombe, and with her eponymous debut album in the bag, it was a support slot for Bob Dylan in 2007 that yanked her into the spotlight. But she looks uneasy under its hot glare, unblinkingly grasping her guitar, moving only to watch her producer and boyfriend, Luther Russell, play lead guitar.

Russell keeps a watchful eye on her new three-piece band as they pull the silky strands of her songs together. Slide guitar melts into Hammond organ, the wintry blues of Holy Smoke drifting into the springtime innocence of Come Back Balloon. But it is Russell who is at the centre of these shifting moods, not Tucek. While he rocks back and forth, plays solos and joins her on harmonies, Tucek gives us nothing but her voice. She's a dusky siren for Stillborn, then damaged and deserted in Hey You, evoking Karen Carpenter and Cat Power. But she is also dispassionate, and her apathy leaves weaker songs like Ambulance sounding thin and cold. Tucek redeems herself on the girl-group pop of Nobody Cares, but she'll need to work harder if she wants to be as beguiling as her music.

· At the Fly, London, tonight. Box office: 0870 907 0999.


Betty Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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