MOLLIE O'BRIEN, KAT EGGLESTON
Vocalist Mollie O'Brien, a native of Wheeling, West Virginia, first found a national audience in the late 80s and early 90s in a bluegrass duo with her brother Tim. But she still has the taste for the pop, R & B, and jazz she picked up in New York in the 70s, before she moved to her current home in Colorado--and this broad range of interests comes out in her solo work. The ten covers that make up her latest CD, Things I Gave Away (Sugar Hill), include tunes from west-coast bluesman Percy Mayfield ("River's Invitation"), John Lennon & Paul McCartney ("You Won't See Me"), and jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln ("Throw It Away"). O'Brien doesn't always succeed in reinventing her material: her reading of the Beatles number is merely pretty, and her bright timbre and jaunty phrasing clash with Mayfield's lyrics about contemplating suicide. But she delivers Lincoln's meditation on loss with an effective combination of breathy moodiness and supple, confident melodicism, and on the slow-simmering blues "When I'm Gone" she balances the razor sharpness of her soprano with an interpretation that's warm, unforced, and sensual. Not surprisingly, O'Brien shines most brightly on country-folk ballads like "Practicing Walking Away" and the achingly beautiful "Train Time." Chicago-based singer and guitarist Kat Eggleston, who opens this show, rejects the lucidity and reserve of O'Brien's style, preferring a barely contained emotional intensity: her vocals swing from a buttery murmur to a parched, brittle cry, and many of the arrangements on her most recent CD, 1997's Outside Eden (Waterbug), pair her staccato fingerpicking with obsessive, agitated rhythms. Among the album's eight originals is a lurching, minor-key nightmare called "No Laughing Matter," and its lyrics are typical of Eggleston's tone--"We're all going down," she proclaims, advising an unnamed suitor, "You take the pill, I'll make the jump." Even on "Go to the Water," which she begins in a relatively serene, folkish croon, she warns that there's "Nothing so smooth as the side of a thorn / Nothing so calm as the eye of a storm"--and by the end of the track her voice has curdled into an acidic wail. Far from melodramatic or self-indulgent, though, she comes across as witty and tough: in a song simply titled "Shit," she brags that with her purse full of "Matches, Rolaids, one earring / Rolls of quarters, Dramamine / I'm prepared for anything." Eggleston will perform solo here; O'Brien will be supported by guitarist Ross Martin, a fellow Coloradan best known as a member of the Tony Furtado Band. Sunday, January 14, 7 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.