Jane Siberry began her career in the early 1980s as an acoustic troubadour in the coffeehouses of her native Toronto. She’s never lost her folkie’s love for heart-on-the-sleeve storytelling, but like fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen she now couches those stories in glossy, layered arrangements that enhance her imagery and add complexity and ambiguity to its meaning. Some of her most important work has been collaborative, and her current disc, City (Sheeba), is a collection of these pieces. Despite the album’s somewhat daunting diversity–from track to track the ambience can be lush or spare, organic or synthetic, drifting or propulsive–Siberry’s captivating alto provides an unmistakable center of gravity, both sonic and emotional. Clear and slightly nasal, it ranges from a little-girl-lost mewl to an anguished wail; she can make it fit into everything from the cluttered, labyrinthine corridors of the pulsating “Harmonix / I Went Down to the River” (a collaboration with Peter Gabriel) to the minor-key Celtic dreamscape of “She’s Like the Swallow,” a traditional tune recorded with French composer Hector Zazou. Siberry has a mile-wide subversive streak too: on both “Shir Amami” (with members of the Klezmatics), a traditional Hanukkah song recast in liturgical-sounding vocal counterpoint over an astringent chamber ensemble, and “The Bridge” (with Joe Jackson), a more conventionally arranged pop ballad, she intentionally sings certain notes flat, or uses impressionistic glissandos to twist simple melodic phrases into elasticized nightmare shapes, evoking stark terror one minute and suffocating obsession the next. But no matter how extreme the performance or bizarre the setting, Siberry’s warmth and vulnerability always come through–and in this solo set, where she’ll accompany herself with just a guitar or piano, they should shine. Saturday and Sunday, November 17 and 18, 7:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Andrew MacNaughtan.