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One of the finest American songwriters in pop, Victoria Williams (pictured) achieved unlikely cult status soon after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1992. The following year, a coterie of heavy-hitters like Lou Reed and Pearl Jam gathered to produce a fundraising tribute CD containing Williams' brilliantly off-centered songs. Sweet Relief was a rare piece, an aesthetic and commercial smash.

Of course, this quirky troubadour sings her own funky stuff better than Eddie Vedder.

Instantly recognizable, her warbling pipes fly in- and out-of-tune, approximating the curve of hooting laughter. She has bottled the bubbling sound of adolescence, yet the words Williams croons are absolutely adult. She utilizes the imagery of nature in masterful ways, whether dipping mouthfuls of creek-water or watching leaves tumble through the autumnal spectrum of color. No matter how quirky the tune, there's the undeniable quality of redemption in everything that spills from her pen.

Even her good records, like this year's Water to Drink, don't do her justice. So show up at the ArtsCenter on Oct. 21 to hear her uncommonly good stories spun live and in color. Opening will be the other half of Williams' heartbeat, her hubby Mark Olson. The former Jayhawk will tell a tale or two as well. --Joe Vanderford

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Eric Bachmann's latest album Crooked Fingers has all the dark portent of a basement when the lone light bulb blinks out. The walls seem far away, the stairs even farther. You feel as if you could be lost for years, listening to the blackness. But Bachmann makes beautiful songs, and the rich guitar, the mournful strings and most of all his pained and smoke-singed lyrics plunge you into an almost pleasurable depression for their duration. Experience it for yourself when Crooked Fingers (the name of the band as well as the album title) appears at Go! Rehearsal Studios on Oct. 19. Rumor has it that Bachmann has been in town doing some recording, so it's possible he'll be treating his audience to new material. Call 969-1400 for details.

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