"She should just talk," said one audience member between fits of laughter at Maryann Fennimore of the group Crescent and Frost.

The four-piece combo -- Americana, as broad and idiosyncratic as the continent -- played a short but sweet set at Iota on Monday, its charming songs punctuated by Fennimore's stream-of-consciousness babble. Fennimore suggested a new terror-threat level: periwinkle. She gave a "shout-out" to the great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who died last week. She told of having an auto mechanic as a cat sitter. And she plugged the group's maiden CD, "Pennsylvania": "You can give presents to people early for the holidays. You might not even like them by Christmas."

The musical variation on that theme: "Ever since the day that I first saw you I couldn't wait for you to leave me behind," a line that Fennimore sang in a voice fresh and clean as a summer day, chased with country harmonies, bluegrassy acoustic strings and Rich Hinman's Opry-style electric guitar solo. The covers were equally inspired, including a slow-burning "Stop in the Name of Love" and a masterfully funky, gospel-inflected version of Neil Young's "For the Turnstiles."

Many of the songs were moving and quite serious. But the wide-eyed, elfin Fennimore sang most of the show with a mischievous smile, as if she were in on some delicious secret of which the audience could know only a wee sliver. "A lot of the songs I write are about this guy who broke my heart," she declared -- and then laughed.

-- Pamela Murray Winters

Maryann Fennimore and Daniel Marcus of Crescent and Frost played a short but sweet set at Iota that was punctuated by Fennimore's happy babble.