JUDGING FROM their new albums, Cormac McCarthy and Jane Gillman have a lot more in common than the same record label. They're both indebted to '60s-era singer-songwriters who bridged the span between folk and pop.
Of the two, New Englander McCarthy has the far more distinctive voice. A deep, virile, hearty baritone, it's not instantly recognizable in the way that, say, Gordon Lighfoot's voice is, but it's similarly well-suited to the kind of pop-folk featured on McCarthy's "Troubled Sleep."
As the title suggests, McCarthy specializes in reflective ballads, confessional and otherwise. Most are filled with more hope than despair, and occasionally McCarthy tosses in a silly novelty -- a homage to "Cows," for example -- or a near-epic account of romantic intrigue ("Waltz With the Captain's Daughter") to keep you guessing. In the end, it's the latter, crafty narrative and some of McCarthy's more thoughtful ballads ("Empty Promises," "Life Outside These Walls") that gives "Troubled Sleep" an emotional heft that a lot of pop-folk lacks.
Gillman, on the other hand, lacks McCarthy's vocal presence on her self-titled release. Her voice simply isn't powerful or gritty enough to give "Howlin' at the Moon" or "Ready for the Time to Come" the earthy kick they demand, but she compensates for the lapse with a mean harmonica and by recruiting Mary Chapin Carpenter on harmonies and Steve Burgh on slide guitar.
She also spends much of her time singing tunes better suited to her gentle delivery, so that "Song of Baltimore" and the lovely southern evocation "Three Quarters" -- by far the album's best song and arrangement -- have an unmistakable poignance and charm.
CORMAC MCCARTHY -- "Troubled Sleep" (Green Linnet).
JANE GILLMAN --
"Jane Gillman" (Green Linnet). Appearing together Sunday at the Silver Spring Unitarian Universalist Church, 10309 New Hampshire Ave., Silver Spring. Call 301/270-9090.