Midway through the Auckland show christening her new record, Miriam Clancy gives her band a break and settles at her electric piano to tell a story.

She's just been out on a national tour by herself, she says. They got an extra gig from her in Milford because an avalanche closed the road out. And this next song sure went down well ...

With that she launches into Wuthering Heights, the Kate Bush hit, expertly navigating its vocal acrobatics. Soon Clancy has Cathy fogging up Heathcliff's windows all over again.

You can see why it probably brought the house down in the deep south. And just maybe those high notes might have brought the mountain down too ...

"That was crazy, eh?" Clancy laughs a few days later at the suggestion maybe she should be careful with that song in alpine regions.

"Yep, dislodged those top glaciers. I have that power."

Hey, but it's a nice party trick.

"Yeah it is a little bit 'look what I can do but you can't - don't do Singstar with me'. I guess that is the cool thing about it, it is so radical that nobody ever gives it a shot and I was only mucking around with it and thought 'hey this works'.

"I love running up that hill. I love love love that song."

Clancy's natural vocal ability had already given her quite a career before she finally struck out on her own with her 2006 debut album Lucky One.

South Auckland-born and raised in Foxton - a scathing song about which appears on her new album - she had gone from pub covers bands and jazz lounges in Wellington to being a corporate and cabaret circuit singer in Malaysia.

She returned with an urge to sing, write and record her own stuff - once she had recovered from her life as a human jukebox.

"It was so hard to do that and it took a long time to empty myself out of the slickness that comes with being the pro singer. It throws this shit on you and you can't shake it off. It requires deep introspection and reprogramming yourself like a Moonie. You sit yourself down and find the music you love and marinate yourself in that for a long time. I had to do that heaps and I had to think about all the money I wasn't earning while doing my little gigs.

"It felt so wrong, in a way, just to play my own songs. I would get paid nothing yet I would sing some shit Celine Dion song and get paid a couple of thousand. It's just madness."

The release of Lucky One announced her as a songwriting talent too. Its largely acoustic approach pegged her as an alt-country artist, winning comparisons to the likes of Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch, as well as Martha Wainwright and Chrissie Hynde.

New album Magnetic, however, doesn't just build on the rustic approach of its predecessor. It veers from its gripping opener The Best (which has echoes of Bush and Sinead O'Connor) to the bouncy Motown-flavoured mega-production of Join the Chorus to the Radiohead/Pink Floyd atmospheres of the title track.

Clancy agrees the album is a striking departure from her first. But it's actually more of a reflection of her musical instincts than her alt-country debut.

"I'm just trying to force myself to be honest with what I like and striving for excellence. So what I used to listen to when I grew up is really coming to the fore." Still, while the songs sound more ambitious, many remain intensely personal. The Best - which repeatedly ponders "is this the best I get?" - seems a hymn to dashed dreams.

Clancy says she wrote that before getting pregnant with the first of her two sons.

"That was disillusionment with life and realising when you are in your 30s life doesn't always pan out how you thought. I guess I am just trying to have a talk to myself and get over it. You have got to be happy with what you have got. But sometimes it is a little difficult when you have had pie in the sky ideas."

And Ghost Town is an ode to the Foxton of her youth which paints a vivid picture of life there at the bottom of the heap. Not one for the homecoming concert, perhaps?

"I'm freaking out about that. I think they will come chasing after me with pitchforks. But that's totally how it was. My experience there was not good. It's a pretty rough town."

Like many of the songs on the 13-strong set, Ghost Town utilises some unconventional instruments to give it its distinctive sound.

The recording - with Clancy producing alongside engineer Andre Upston - often found the pair on a mission to find the right sound. Some of the album was recorded at Neil Finn's Roundhead Studios and features his vintage Chamberlin keyboard; they popped over to Chris Knox's place to use his equally ancient Mellotron; and it was off to Waiheke's Whittakers Musical Museum for a spot of dulcitone, spinet and theatre organ.

"It was just like 'what do I really want in that bit in that song?' and then it would be a hunt for whatever it was.

"I am embracing my geekiness. I am definitely a studio-tech fiend and working with Andre just brought out the worst in me. It was just total geeksville. I was like a kid in a lolly shop. It was tragic."

But now the hard work begins again. Clancy spent some time in Los Angeles before her first album and she hopes to return one day for another go at establishing a foothold.

As with her debut, she is releasing Magnetic independently, though she is signed to the publishing arm of Mushroom Music. And she's got a growing family to consider around her career ambitions.

"We are pretty vague on it just because you kind of have to be," she says of her next move after a tour to promote the record. "It's good to have loose goals but ... we've been planning to get over to LA for quite some time but to be dogmatic about it would really stitch things up.

"I am prepared to work really hard but not at the cost of my small family being happy and fed."

She says that the recent national solo jaunt was enlightening. She's no household name but she's got fans out there and made some new ones along the way on the strength of her own songs, and not just her Stars in their Eyes turn at crazy Kate's greatest hit.

"The reaction of the people that did come was startling. I was expecting the worst. There is nothing worse than going down and just being background music. But people were involved and I was actually making true fans. I have regrouped myself and just upped my game."