THE CARDIGANS

"Long Gone Before Daylight"

Koch

CHARLOTTE MARTIN

"On Your Shore"

RCA

KATY ROSE

"Because I Can"

V2

Though now touring with Liz Phair, Charlotte Martin and Katy Rose as "Chicks With Attitude," the Cardigans sound far more melancholy than menacing on "Long Gone Before Daylight." So much so, in fact, that during several ruminative, country-tinged performances, the Swedish band sounds as if it has spent a lot of time listening to the Cowboy Junkies.

Vocalist Nina Persson seems all but swallowed up by the tortured and torchy mood halfway through the CD when three back-to-back tracks form a glum mini-suite: "And Then You Kissed Me ("True love is cruel love") followed by "Couldn't Care Less" ("Oh, my heart can't carry much more / It's really aching and sore") followed by "Please Sister" ("I know of love as a hot white light / That knocks you down and then leaves you dry"). Then along comes "For What It's Worth," with its bounce and swagger, offering some rhythmic relief tied to yet another heartsick lyric: "We had fun, fun, fun," Persson recalls, "'til I said I love you / And what is worse -- I really do."

Persson has never sounded better, or more emotionally engaged, and the album's often interlocking songs help turn "Long Gone" into the band's most consistently soulful recording. But a certain sameness eventually takes its toll, leaving you wishing for more signs of the band's once familiar and quirky pop appeal.

Likewise, singer-songwriter Martin's impressive full-length debut "On Your Shore" is more about issues than attitudes. A classically trained singer and pianist, Martin makes no secret of her chief influences (Kate Bush and the Cure rank high), and whether she likes it or not, her voice and keyboard work will inevitably draw comparisons with Tori Amos. Though she appears to linger a little too long in Amos's shadow on the album's title cut and other tracks, Martin's voice soars free on "Limits of Our Love," and her songwriting shines when emotions boil over on "Madman" and "Haunted." A slow take on the Rolling Stones "Wild Horses" brings the album to an anguished close.

Katy Rose, on the other hand, has attitude to spare. The budding singer-songwriter makes that clear from the start of "Because I Can," with her keening vocals, blunt lyrics ("I need to take a shower when I look at you") and gleeful blend of punk, rock, psychedelic and hip-hop influences. Conflicted emotions inspire some of the best tracks, including the combustible "I Like," but Rose never sounds like she's up against something she can't handle.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Friday at the 9:30 club with Liz Phair. * To hear a free Sound Bite from the Cardigans, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8104; to hear Charlotte Martin, press 8105; to hear Katy Rose, press 8106. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)