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A Star Turn Spawns 'Samson'

As a fiercely independent and idiosyncratic singer/songwriter who plays the piano, Regina Spektor draws easy comparisons to Tori Amos. But her work feels less remote and more versatile, thanks in large part to a singular songwriting voice that spans genres and personas with grace and apparent ease.

Her first album recorded for widespread distribution -- its three predecessors were self-released, though the marvelous Soviet Kitsch received a high-profile reissue last year -- the new Begin to Hope finds the Russian-born performer in the midst of a full-blown star turn. On "Samson," the album's most elegantly lovely song, Spektor uses the story of Samson as a jumping-off point for a poignant rumination on disappointment, aging and obsolescence.

For all its thematic ambition and Biblical allusions, "Samson" functions best as a subtle character sketch, but it also makes a grand showcase for Spektor's knockout arrangement. When a wave of minor-key synths rolls in during the sweetly melancholy chorus -- just as she hits the words, "Your hair was long when we first met" -- the resulting sound is moving to a degree that's practically paralyzing.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)