If Bitter Sweet (Mercury), the recent sophomore album by Kim Richey, is any indication, Nashville may be ever so subtly changing its tune. Already successful as a writer (her songs have been hits for George Ducas, Trisha Yearwood, and Radney Foster), Richey debuted as a singer in 1995. But as impressive as her writing and singing were, Kim Richey suffered at times from the usual buffed edges and excess sugar of commercial country production. Bitter Sweet by and large corrects those problems. A few tunes suggest the mid-70s turquoise and denim of Linda Ronstadt, but there are also a number of gritty, loose songs the likes of which the hit machine doesn't churn out too often these days. While the album is hardly raw, songs like "Every River" and "I'm Alright" show that Richey could be a Lucinda Williams for the mainstream: she sings in a sensual, weathered rasp, and her band--not the usual ringers but her actual touring band, which includes the superb Kenny Vaughan on lead guitar--delivers an urgency missing with most studio pros. To most ears, of course, these idiosyncrasies are very mild--and compared to Williams, Richey can seem bland. Whether she'll score on all-powerful country radio remains to be seen, but it's nonetheless encouraging that Nashville is beginning to push artists who have more invested in their music than their wardrobe and makeup. Friday, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508. Peter Margasak
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Frank Ochenfels.