7/10



Tom Waits trusted Jesca Hoop with his children, Andrew Bird chose her as an opener, and Elbow's Guy Garvey coaxed her to move from Los Angeles to Manchester. Listening to the nine tracks that make up sophomore album Hunting My Dress, it's easy to understand why. Crafting quirky folk with enough angles to appeal to those who don't usually head to San Francisco with flowers in their hair, Hoop exudes such grace that even when all that glitters isn't gold, you might momentary believe otherwise.



The only real downside: there are no real standout numbers here. Hoop set a high bar for herself with debut album Kismet's show stopping single “Seed of Wonder,” painting herself as a folkie that can throw down with riot grrrl intensity. While every song drips with such a self-assured swagger (“Your burden is your brilliance” she reminds on “Whispering Light”), it's disappointing that she doesn't allow her crystalline voice or near-virtuoso guitar skills to instantly dazzle, instead choosing to understated gems that slowly reveal their sparkle over repeated listens. This is music crafted for those wise enough to realize that instant isn't the most satisfying form of gratification.



The upside: disparate influences—a subtle hip-hop beat here, a renaissance fair flair there—are knitted together with Hoop's remarkable vocal range and shaded with her vivid imagery. The seductive dichotomy works. The strange comfort of the title track plays as a stark contrast to the PJ Harvey-esque howl of “Feast of Heart.” “Tulip” is a twisting murder ballad when the familiar becomes deadly, while “Murder of Birds” (featuring Garvey) celebrates the simple joys of home, including the “shape of baked bread, and a girl in a turn down bed.” It's difficult to say what might be going on in Hoop's fertile imagination to evoke such otherworldly images, but chances are Hunting My Dress will add a few more people desperate to find out. (www.jescahoop.com)