Lhasa | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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A novelist having trouble imagining an artistic vagabond could crib a few ideas from the life of Mexican-American singer-songwriter Lhasa de Sela. Born to hippie parents, she grew up in the Catskills in the 70s but often traveled back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico border with her family in a converted school bus. After moving to Montreal when she was 19, she met guitarist Yves Desrosiers, and their lengthy collaboration resulted in her 1997 debut, La llorona. The album was a hit in Canada and Europe, but after a few years of touring she decided to relocate to France and sing in a circus she produced with her three sisters. Returning to Montreal in 2002, she began working on her follow-up, The Living Road (Nettwerk). Both albums have their too-precious moments, but Road is more refined and less melodramatic than its predecessor. The innate theatricality in Lhasa's voice is a perfect match for songs that borrow heavily from Mexican boleros and French chansons--she sings in Spanish, French, and English--but her preferred musical backdrop is a kind of flea-market bricolage a la Tom Waits. "Anywhere on This Road" is constructed from some clattery percussion and moody, garrulous lines from a trumpeter who sounds like he got separated from his Gypsy brass band; "Small Song" marches to a beguiling mix of clanking rhythms and glowing vibraphone. There's more than a touch of Polly Jean Harvey in Lhasa's low, husky voice, but ultimately, she really sounds like no one but herself. Sat 2/12, 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000 or 866-468-3401, $20. All ages.

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