Sally Timms is a chameleon: the way she sings depends on the musical environment behind her. On Cowboy Sally's Twilight Laments for Lost Buckaroos (1999), recorded with Chicago alt-country pals, her singing had a lullaby sweetness, self-assured and with a gentle twang. But she doesn't sound nearly so comforting on the new In the World of Him (Touch and Go), an album of songs written by men (excepting her own "Little Tommy Tucker"). Pondering social Darwinism, violence, and uniquely masculine failures at self-expression, they're dark to begin with, but what pushes them to disturbing is the instrumentation, by singer-songwriter Johnny Dowd and his band. There's a glimmer of Timms's more familiar rootsiness in the relatively straight take on Ryan Adams's self-pitying "The Fools We Are as Men," but more often that old-fashioned American sound is run through noisy guitars, herky-jerky rhythms, and primitive electronics. A faux-Steve Reich xylorimba riff and splattering snare rolls threaten her contemplativeness on Jon Langford's "Sentimental Marching Song," and on the old Mekons tune "Corporal Chalkie" she expertly pushes herself into a quivering display of rage to match the song's unstable, lurching arrangement. Timms never screams or accelerates the pace beyond funereal, but this is one of the most effectively angry and provocative albums I've heard in the last few years. Dowd, whose new Cemetery Shoes (Bongo Beat) collects a series of his own palsied, acidic lounge-lizard ruminations, plays a set before backing Timms. Julie Doiron opens. Saturday 11/20, 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $10 in advance, $12 at the door.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Patsy Desmond.