Pamela Lillard’s bluesy urban folk-rock lands her in a ballpark with Vega, Armatrading, Cockburn, and a few others who’ve rescued forgotten kernels of coolness from the mudheap of outdated singer-songwriter cliches; her best songs are disarmingly concise pop tunes free of the narcissistic indulgence that gave “sensitive” balladeers such a bad name in the 1970s. The ever-changing Rubba Band plays arrangements that draw on gospel, folk, Latin, and R&B sources as much as from riffwise rock ‘n’ roll–but what otherwise might seem an excess of eclecticism is held together by Lillard’s dramatic honey-and-vinegar voice, a gutsy instrument that keeps her from sounding wimpy when she downshifts into the more confessional side of her repertoire. Lillard’s ability to kick butt in a subtle, tuneful way is refreshing on the local rock scene, where “subtle” too often means “boring.” Sunday, Batteries Not Included, 2201 N. Clybourn; 348-9529.

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