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Florence and the Machine leads Mercury Prize race

By Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters) - British singer-songwriters Florence and the Machine and Bat for Lashes are among the front-runners competing on Tuesday for the Mercury Prize, one of Britain's most prestigious annual music awards.

The bookmakers' favorite in a field dominated by the debut albums of emerging acts is Florence and the Machine, the recording name for Florence Welch performing both alone and with a changing line-up of musicians.

Known for her explosive live performances, Welch has been described as a cross between Bjork and Kate Bush, with elements of Nick Cave, Kirsty MacColl and Chrissie Hynde.

According to Welch, her nominated debut album "Lungs" is about love and pain and is made up of "harps, choirs, drums, elevator shafts, bits of metal, love, death, fireworks, string quartets ... wedding dresses."

Bookmakers Ladbrokes have cut the odds on Welch's acclaimed album winning the 20,000-pound ($32,810) prize from 50-1 in January to 5-2 after it attracted double the bets of its nearest challenger.

"The prize has earned a reputation as the graveyard of the favorites and we hope the trend continues," said Ladbrokes spokesman Nick Weinberg.

Singer-songwriter Natasha Khan, who is known as Bat for Lashes, is the second-favorite with her second album "Two Suns," which contains the singles "Daniel" and "Pearl's Dream."

The album was recorded in the Californian desert, New York, London and the Welsh countryside and is described as being more grown up than her Mercury-nominated first album "Fur and Gold."

The other nominees are: Friendly Fires, Glasvegas, Kasabian, La Roux, Led Bib, Lisa Hannigan, Speech Debelle, Sweet Belly Pilgrim, The Horrors and The Invisible.

The winner of the 2009 Barclaycard Mercury Prize, chosen by a panel of industry figures, musicians and journalists to celebrate the best of UK and Irish music, will be announced at a London ceremony later on Tuesday.

Previous winners include Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand, Suede, Pulp, Klaxons and Elbow.

(Editing by Steve Addison)

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