Regina Spektor may have arrived late to music's recent female singer-songwriter bash, already raging with the success of Natasha Bedingfield, KT Turnstall and Imogen Heap, but she arrives with enough talent and charm to easily become the life of the party. Begin to Hope, the follow-up to Spektor's art-house debut, Soviet Kitsch, is a collection of plucky, gorgeous songs that highlight the Russian-born singer's ability to easily transition between cheeky and conscious.

Hope begins with a series of delicate, piano-driven melodies sung with disarming perfection. Spektor's voice is altogether breathtaking, and each note falls exactly where it should. "Fidelity," the album's first track, is an ode to protecting one's heart ("I never loved nobody fully/ always one foot on the ground"), a theme increasingly prevalent in a society of cautious love. Spektor doesn't just rely on textbook pessimism, however, to fill out an album.

Several tracks off Hope are sweet, old-fashioned love songs. "Better," a lullaby of sorts, has Spektor wondering if her beau will "feel better" if she kisses "where it's sore." "Summer in the City" features a smooth but weary Spektor singing the blues about an old flame "so long gone from the city." Her melodies are spirited where others' are often cynical, which adds a layer of trustworthiness to Spektor's already winsome appeal.

A woman hasn't loved until she has lost, however, and Hope accordingly features its fair share of moody rhymes for the down-and-out. "Lady" begins with, "Lady sings the blues so well/ as if she means it/ as if it's hell down here in this smoke-filled world," and continues with a sullenly sung tale of disenchantment.

Several tracks feature this storytelling theme, including some that make mention of the chemical demons haunting Spektor's past. For example, "20 Years of Snow" invites listeners to share the singer's loss of faith as she witnesses drug-fueled devastation — "his daughter is twenty years of snow falling … she is 20 years of clean/ and she never truly hated anyone or anything/ she is a dying breed."

"That Time" is another tale of self-destruction, but sung in an eerily playful tone. Spektor delves deeper and deeper into a life she couldn't catch up with, reminiscing first about "that time when [she] would only eat oranges," then, startlingly, about a time when a friend overdosed "for the second time." The impish, almost childlike quality of Spektor's voice adds to the poignancy of "This Time," as the track becomes a testament to innocence maintained through tragedy.

Spektor's playfulness, however, doesn't always mask pain. Several songs have a whimsical quality that reveals the singer's Bohemian roots. "Apres Moi" features jaunty rhymes in French, English and Russian, and is sung over a snare-drum beat. "On the Radio" fits in allusions to both Styrofoam and Axl Rose, an impressive feat for its simple melody.

While Spektor's kitsch is cute, she sounds best when she emotes, ingenuously, on love. Begin to Hope's best track, "Samson," is a chillingly beautiful ode to a romance defeated by life's inevitable obstacles. Spektor fondly remembers a time when a relationship "couldn't bring the columns down," a biblical reference in tune with the track's title. When she delivers the lines, "You are my sweetest downfall / I loved you first" in a sweet soprano, the effect is enchanting.

From her artfully designed image to her organic, lucid voice, Regina Spektor is an artist that commands attention and, more importantly, respect. Unassuming yet powerful, her album is an achievement of musical prowess that leaves an impression instead of forcing an image. Judging by Begin to Hope's touching, spiritual quality, Spektor is an artist whose future is as sparkling as her talent.

5 out of 5