Nora O'Connor 

Wednesday, March 23; Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue

Ladies and gentlemen of the pop-music jury: It's easy for us to make a case for the big, flamboyant singers and performers of the world. But when faced with the task of describing somebody whose artistry is so subtle as to be virtually invisible, the temptation is to throw up one's hands and plead to the mercy of the court. As simply as we know how to say it, Nora O'Connor is damn good. Can't you take our word for it?

We present Exhibit A, her record of achievement. O'Connor has been one of the most in-demand session vocalists in Chicago, singing and performing with the likes of the New Pornographers, Jeff Tweedy, Mavis Staples and Neko Case. She's had a higher profile as a one-time member of the Blacks and a long-time touring partner of Andrew Bird's.

Further evidence is introduced in the form of her debut solo album, Til the Dawn, released last year. Here we have nine songs exquisitely presented with the spotlight on the material. She sings "That's Alright," the classic Stevie Nicks number from Nicks' Fleetwood Mac days, with a light country feel. She moves into torch territory for a version of the old standard "Love Letters." When given a ballad calling for more powerful presentation, such as Lori Carson's "Down Here," O'Connor shows off a more obvious depth, but even here never lets her vocal prowess overpower the song.

Our last option is to see how good she is live. Our first chance comes next week. -- Steve Pick

Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 in advance, $7 at the door. Call 314-773-3363 for more information.

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