Los Angeles songwriter Mia Doi Todd delivers her strange, smart lyrics in a style so mannered it makes her timbral sister Joni Mitchell sound like a scat singer. On her third album, Zeroone (City Zen), she sets her meticulous phrasing inside minimalist acoustic guitar patterns–a combination that really shouldn’t work, and yet lines like “Nakedly we lie in an ecstatic embrace / Trying not to come too quickly / One minute rise / Plastic bagged lubricated safety tube” fit into the relentless two-note riff of “Digital” with an architectural precision. Though Todd’s cool, flawless intonation reminds me of great British folksingers like Shirley Collins and Anne Briggs, she might be better compared to Suzanne Langille, the longtime partner of Loren MazzaCane Connors, whose quavery, spooky voice can make anything from old blues to new experimental music sound timeless. Though Todd’s words tend toward the elliptical, they sometimes seem political: her most heavy-handed song, “Tugboat,” proclaims that “When the tugboat tires of sweating for minimum wage…there will be chamberpots overflowing,” and “Merry Me” plays with homonyms to contemplate how coupling affects individual freedom. But the personal songs are the most affecting: I still can’t shake the image that opens “Amnesia,” about burying a dead pet at sea: “Seven eight times she came rolling back / Our shirtsleeves waterlogged, her fur just damp.” Tuesday, July 10, 7 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. Thursday, July 12, 8 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace; 773-478-4408.


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