"Your relationship failed / and nobody cares," reminded Chantelle Tibbs on Tuesday, August 5. Damn, lady. Couldn't have said it better myself.

The first time I had the pleasure of watching Chantelle perform, it was also at El Rio, also free, also a Tuesday. The six or seven months that intervened between los Martes served her well, I must say. I witnessed unmistakable development in Tibbs this time around, as chanteuse du folk, of course, but also, more specifically, as songwriter and all-around performer.

[audio:http://www.thebaybridged.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/full_84354d73fefa39bf2b17ff33357f6e05.mp3]
Chantelle Tibbs - "Take Me Now"

Drawing one's audience into one's set usually proves a difficult task for any solo act, what with so many cliches to skirt, and so much undivided attention to absorb, amplify and return. Granted, Tibbs brought along a killer lead player for this show, Hoan Ton-That, who did well to add an element of virtuosity and gleam to her music, but spake not a single syllable between numbers and remained so low-key as to seem reserved, shy, even. So, my first bit of praise comes of her easy bearing between songs. Her talkshit is beginning to fall more completely in line with her sound: soulfully bittersweet, effectively conscious of itself.

I'll reserve any and all overcooked, nominally hybridized assessments here (like, "So And So meets What's Her Such with a touch of Superbadass Lady") to tell it to you plainly, and again: she's got pipes. However, the fact that her songs now seem to want to limit, not stretch, her vocal range, comes as something of a surprise considering that her older material tends to meander, stray, flirt with aberrance. She's now stringing together more-concentrated, better-studied lines that point to awareness and maturity; that is, she's put herself in touch with her "money notes" [if I may]. Instead of trying to hit everything she can, as she might have six or seven months ago, she's showing patience and restraint, delivering on richer, more robust phrases and with surer cadence. No doubt she's busy drilling the notes on the edges of her range until they're as shapely, blue, warm, performance-ready as those in the center. Hard worker, this one. Google and dig the curriculum vitae when you get a chance.

In terms of lyrical content, her stuff resonates with me. Songs about failed relationships in our little The City here . . . yep, we can certainly identify with those, having fucked things up quite royally, and much to the indifference of those on whom we choose to dump our accustomed woe. Elliott Smith covers ("Bottle Up and Explode!") . . . hooray! Now you've got me rapt, Chantelle, convinced that intelligence, hard work, bungled intimacy, a little 6/8 time and a touch of ghostly angst sound good all smashed together, especially when presented in so well-measured a set.

Oh, our petite laments, dear lady, don't they cook so bad, so sweetly?