Alice Peacock

In a contemporary indie singer-songwriter scene littered with artists who are as sincere as they are unimpressive, newcomer Alice Peacock stands out like, well, a peacock among sparrows. Yes, she explores familiar gal-with-a-guitar terrain -- inner emotion and interpersonal struggle -- but Peacock does so with a rare authority that sets her apart from the estrogen-drenched sighs and tears of so many other women singing from the heart. And it doesn't hurt that her musical sensibility embraces both pop hooks and sophistication. Her melodies are driven by a vigorous strum, and her flexible voice can go from soaring to sultry with full-blooded femininity.

Imagine Joni Mitchell -- an admitted influence to whom Peacock also bears something of a physical resemblance -- with a streak of rock-girl chutzpah, and you get an idea of the quality and vitality of this Chicago-based talent. Her self-released debut, Real Day, is as professional and assured as the stuff that major labels issue, and it's stocked with plenty of songs that stick to your ribs (some of which were co-written by two of the best songsmiths in underground Nashville, Tom Littlefield and Angelo). It's one of those rare releases that says "pay attention" on first spin, and with each subsequent listen it signals the arrival of someone bound for some level of glory. Word is that Peacock's next set will find her on a label, which, given how many lesser lights get record deals, is hardly a surprise.

She opens for John Gorka, a major advocate of her potential and one of the few men on the new folk circuit whose music transcends the usual singer-songwriter snooze. This show should prove there's still some fire to be heard in a genre that's grown so warm and fuzzy that it often tastes like a glass of milk at bedtime. Peacock makes music that's as bracing as a shot of smooth whiskey.

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Rob Patterson