On each of its three albums Grace Braun's band DQE reinvented itself: But Me, I Fell Down featured harrowing tales of mental illness set to syntonically jittery indie rock; Jump On In's original hoedowns sounded like they'd been found in the public domain; and on last year's DQE and Jad Fair the group backed up the Half Japanese front man for a set of chaotic, mostly acoustic folk-rock tunes. On her solo debut, It Won't Hurt (Slow River), Braun changes course again, reaching for the brass ring of country stardom. Since the record is bereft of line-dance beats she probably won't catch it, but nonetheless the songs are pure gold. Their gentle acoustic backing, with filigrees of fiddle and steel and electric guitar, is a more refined version of the roots music she embraced on Jump On In--this is an album of finished portraits rather than rough sketches. Braun's never had more control over her huge and occasionally wayward voice, which has the potential to overwhelm a song. Her overdubbed harmonies on the gentle hymn "What Wondrous Love Is This" are beautifully and meticulously arranged, and every bit as moving as the full-bore wail she applies to the up-tempo devotional "Stand By Me" and her own throw-the-bum-out blues "Do Right." Her songs address the travails of secular and spiritual love: neither can be taken for granted, but that only makes each sweeter when it's won. Braun will be backed by DQE drummer Dugan Trodglen (who is also her husband); she opens for the Lonesome Organist (see Spot Check) and the Sea and Cake, who are celebrating the release of (respectively) a debut album and a remix EP, both on Thrill Jockey. Saturday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 773-525-6620. BILL MEYER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Grace Braun photo/ uncredited.