Amy LaVere, The Borderline, London

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The Independent Culture

The male-dominated crowd chanted "Take it off! Take it off!" at the young, beautiful and talented woman on stage. They weren't seedily encouraging Amy LaVere, US singer/songwriter, double-bassist and budding Hollywood actress, to do anything untoward. They were merely asking her to come out from behind a glittering silver mask, which had hidden her face for the last hour.

After much persuasion she obliged and now shone far brighter, steeled by frequent swigs of Jameson, for this, the encore at the launch gig for her third album, Stranger Me, released earlier this month.

"I've been looking forward to this for a long time," she'd cooed into her microphone earlier in the show. "You don't know how fancy it sounds in Memphis to have a CD release party in London."

Her voice, infused with a hesitant yet charming southern lilt, has an excitable saccharine quality which would suit the virtuous female country genre. But it is deceptive. There is an arresting darkness to LaVere's blend of Memphis country, soul and blues which is plumbed to new depths on the latest record (produced by Craig Silvey, who has worked with Arcade Fire).

Before recording, she went through a period of serious self-doubt. "I was on shaky ground," she confided to the doe-eyed fans, until finally, she woke up and asked herself: "What is your problem?" The preamble informs "Candle Mambo", a compelling exploration of LaVere's dip into depression. Her fingers danced delicately over the strings, but the deep thrum of the bass formed the solid beat of survival.

She told the crowd that her mum always said: "Oh Amy, we could throw her naked into New York City and she'd come out clothed with a $100 bill". It's a shame, then, that the first half of her performance was undermined by glimpses of that self-doubt she says she has triumphed over. Strength shouts loud and clear in her music. It could do with being stronger in her performance.

She was apologetic as she admitted that much of her music is about lost love, painful break-ups and even killing former lovers. But "Killing Him" was a biting highlight of the show. When LaVere lets go, as she did when she shimmied seductively for the locomotion of "If Love Was a Train", she is a force to be reckoned with.