If they gave out such awards in alt-country, Trailer Bride would win this year’s “Most Improved” trophy. The swooping low notes of self-taught slide guitarist, singer, and bandleader Melissa Swingle couldn’t save the group’s early recordings for the Walt label from tripping over indie-rock ineptitude, but this year’s Smelling Salts (Bloodshot) could be the work of another band altogether. Daryl White’s bass fiddle and Brad Goolsby’s drumming mesh confidently with their leader’s sturdy, VU-meets-CCR figures on excursions into “Mystery Train”-style rockabilly, front-porch balladry, and breakneck bluegrass. Swingle’s capable turns on harmonica, musical saw, and mandolin color the spacious arrangements, and her singing has matured from a kitschy warble into a fetching blend of goofiness and languor. Her songs are studies in ambivalence: for each step toward love, salvation, or stardom she takes a sad, sweet, funny backward glance. Since recording Smelling Salts the band has added a guitarist, Goolsby’s brother Scott, to the lineup. The quartet is second on this bill; Kelly Hogan and the J-Lights open and Alejandro Escovedo headlines. Saturday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. BILL MEYER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Mike Traister.