Tuesday night at Iota, Icelandic-Italian singer Emiliana Torrini seemed a little awkward speaking in English, but that clumsiness faded instantly when she sang. Her breathy, childlike voice, reminiscent of Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval, wafted around sparse instrumentation provided by three musicians. As she strolled through such songs as the contemplative "At Least It Was" and the somewhat more lively "Sunny Road," the packed room was silent; during instrumental interludes, she swayed gently with her eyes closed, obviously lost in the music.

Torrini had a story to tell about almost every song, both originals and covers. She talked about a trip to Austin to work with Bill Callahan of Smog, and how "we didn't write anything together; we just stayed at home and drank tea and watched birds and listened to R. Kelly." Rather than a collaboration, that trip resulted in her adapting his song "Honeymoon Child," which, when performed live, captured the feel of a lazy weekend at home with its slow, deliberate melody.

The girlish quality to Torrini's voice infused every song with cheerfulness; even the slightly more aggressive "Tuna Fish" seemed merely assertive rather than forceful. Such a narrow range of emotion might have turned monotonous, but Torrini's hour-long set kept her lighthearted delivery joyous and uplifting -- the perfect complement to the first day of summer.

-- Catherine P. Lewis