For Father's Day, I'm giving my husband "the other woman." I know he might leave me for Sam Phillips, the sharp, cool blonde whose recent "A Boot and a Shoe" has rarely left our CD player since it arrived. But I'll take my chances and take him to Iota on Sunday night, where he'll be close enough to declare his intentions.

He's not alone in his love. Over the course of a long but low-key career, Phillips has charted her own musical course on eight studio albums, most produced by husband T-Bone Burnett, including the Grammy-nominated "Martinis & Bikinis" (1994), which many people consider one of the more underrated albums of modern times.

Drawing inspiration from folk, pop, vintage rock, literature, philosophy and films, Phillips creates pop songs that bristle with brainy lyrics and catchy hooks. "Beatlesesque" is a word cheaply tossed about but right on target for her crafty songwriting and studio skills. Phillips's most recent releases, 2001's "Fan Dance" and "A Boot and a Shoe" (both on the Nonesuch label), are notable for their intimate sound and stripped-down arrangements. Her lyrics are personal but not confessional, and each song has a distinctive musical flavor, born in studio sessions that take advantage of Burnett's enviable Rolodex of on-call players.

Although she sometimes performs at clubs in New York and Los Angeles, Phillips hasn't toured extensively in more than six years, so having her show up at the intimate Iota is cause for celebration.

Also on the bill is Eszter Balint, another woman with musical chops and enigmatic style.

The discount bins are littered with actors who want to be musicians, but Balint is the exceptional exception. Though her music isn't easily categorized, a publicist's description as "Americana gone bad" is a great start, as are comparisons to Polly Jean Harvey and X's Exene Cervenka. The violinist-singer-songwriter is drawn toward the sparseness and simplicity of country and the blues but adds haunting atmospheres with her smoky voice and coolly ironic lyrics.

Balint was born in Hungary, where her parents were members of the Squat Theater group. When she was 10, the family and troupe moved to Paris, from which they traveled throughout Europe before relocating in the late '70s to New York City. As a teenager, Balint began performing in Squat shows and deejaying in the theater, a base for groundbreaking bands of the period, including the Lounge Lizards, Sun Ra and Kid Creole and the Coconuts.

A violinist since age 6, Balint made her recording debut on a rap track produced by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. When she was 15, director Jim Jarmusch gave her a starring role in his film "Stranger Than Paradise," which led to work alongside David Bowie ("The Linguini Incident"), Woody Allen ("Shadows and Fog") and Steve Buscemi, for whom she co-wrote and performed a song on the "Trees Lounge" soundtrack.

In 1990, Balint moved to Los Angeles and shifted her focus exclusively to music. Her solo debut, "Flicker," was released in 1999, and "Mud" arrived earlier this year. Billboard called it "a small gem of mystery and allure," while the All Music Guide said "it all throbs with a kind of languorous tension that makes it shabbily elegant and rustically beautiful."


Iota Club and Cafe is at 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. Admission is $18 and limited to those over 21 with valid ID. Tickets are not sold in advance; customers are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. Call 703-522-8340 or visit for more details.

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Sam Phillips, left, has proved during her low-key career that it's not impossible to combine catchy hooks with brainy lyrics. Eszter Balint, right, is a cutting-edge actress who has successfully crossed over to the world of music.