Rachael SageRachael Sage, an independent New York singer-songwriter, has been a favorite artist of this column, thanks to great piano-based pop albums such as Smashing the Serene and Public Record.

Curious about why?

You can catch Sage's act live tonight in support of her new record, Ballads & Burlesque, in the Third Thursday Concert Series at Berry United Methodist Church, 4754 N. Leavitt St., Chicago. More information is at www.rachaelsage.com.

If you're looking for a more roots-rock oriented show, you can head to FitzGerald's in Berwyn tonight for the 20th anniversary show by Billy Bacon & the Forbidden Pigs.

The band is supporting Still Smokin' After 20 Years, a collection of songs from Bacon's last eight CDs. More information is on the Internet at www.forbiddenpigs.com.

Charlotte MartinCharlotte Martin
On Your Shore
(RCA)
    


I was packing my last bag for an eight-day business trip to Philadelphia when the doorbell rang, and the United Parcel Service man handed me a package containing the debut CD of Charleston, Ill., native (and former Miss Teen Illinois) Charlotte Martin.

I'd heard the evocative "Limits of Our Love" from the album on Internet radio, so I added the disc to my carry-on items and headed off to O'Hare International Airport.

That night, I'd already planned to catch a show in Philly by another singer-songwriter, Canada's Emm Gryner. So imagine my surprise when I pulled up in the cab to find Charlotte Martin billed as the opener for Gryner's set.

Synchronicity aside, it doesn't take Martin's instantly likeable stage presence to draw the listener into the personal struggles of her lyrics.

"I dig my heels into the dirt/cuz this one's gonna hurt," she sings in the first moments of On Your Shore, a rich collection of piano-based melancholy and throbbing rhythmic entreaty.

Her live set is powerful and matched by the album filled with plaintive piano melodies and equally plaintive lyrics.

Like Tori Amos, Martin was a child prodigy, trained in classical piano and opera singing by age 7. Perhaps that's part of the reason her debut album (following a four-song EP last year) will sound hauntingly familiar to Amos fans.

Both her piano playing and vocal stylings are amazingly similar to Amos', though without quite as much of the "Cornflake Girl's" penchant for the extremes of whispery and piercingly high drama.

The CD opens with "On Your Shore," which builds from a simple embrace of piano to a full-blown musical mesh of strings and drums joining the emotional fray as Martin calls out, "Here I am."

She nicks the galloping drum pattern of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" for the disc's most radio-friendly and exciting track, the tense "Limits of Our Love," before slipping back into lyrical, vulnerable piano-based yearning in "Your Armor" and "Parade On."

The Kate Bush influence reappears again in the backgrounds of "Every Time It Rains."Some songs are just a little too obviously Amos-influenced. The piano fluttering and vocal backgrounds of "Something Like a Hero" sound like Martin wrote it after gorging on a repetitive diet of Amos' Under the Pink.

The flip side, however, is she does it really well. She also, like Amos, indulges in Rolling Stones' cover songs.

She may wear her influences on her sleeve, but Martin is an entrancing performer. She has toured with idols Psychedelic Furs and with Liz Phair and the Cardigans on the Chicks With Attitude tour. (She includes in her live set a wonderfully funny "stalker" song that is sadly not included on this disc.)

On Your Shore is a delicate but strong declaration of arrival from an artist who hopefully will be around to sing us siren songs for many years to come.