When the slightest degrees separate the coffeehouse hack from the gifted songstress, it’s no easy task being a woman armed with an acoustic guitar. Often too subtle for fame, and therefore too obscure to be relevant, singer-songwriters walk a tense tightrope between credibility and, well, dullsville. They are unheralded, they are unappreciated, they are the unloved stepchildren of the music world. For the fortunate few who manage to conjure their craft at precisely the right moment and for precisely the right audience, the gamble can pay off dividends. In this circumstance, the mode of expression has an effect few other ensembles can manage. There’s something mystically personal about the experience for the listener, as though the tunes were carefully handcrafted to the refined specifications of each individual. Take for instance Joni Mitchell’s “Blue,” which will be covered in its entirety by Chicagoan Eiren Caffall as part of The Whistler’s “Playing Favorites” series. “Blue” bears a modesty so alien to contemporary music as to seem starkly confrontational by today’s pop standards. Caffall’s sensibilities aren’t quite so precious; her latest effort, “Slipping the Holdfast,” doesn’t cater to lyricism immersed in time-stamped slang, nor is the instrumentation confined to an acoustic guitar. Instead, she employs electricity to great effect, echoing the Crazy Horse distortion tone akin to the late Jason Molina. If past performances of The Whistler’s series are any indication (recommended listening: White/Light’s warped version of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain”) Caffall is sure to put her own spin on Mitchell’s Californian lamentations, and the city is better off for it. Fresh off their five-year anniversary, destination bar The Whistler has become an indispensable asset for inventive music programming of every genre. The best part? If all else fails, you can comfort yourself by getting very drunk off of very good cocktails. (Kenneth Preski)
October 6 at The Whistler, 2421 North Milwaukee, (773)227-3530. 9:30pm. Free. 21+.