POP MUSIC REVIEW : A Misguided Outing for a Gifted Childs

Toni Childs is an immensely gifted singer, but she may not be her own best friend when it comes to making artistic choices. Six years after her appealing debut, "Union," written primarily on her own, she's come up with an ambitious and sorely misguided concept album that any reasonable collaborator would have talked her out of.

"The Woman's Boat," played almost in its entirety and in order, provided the gist of Childs' wildly uneven show Tuesday at House of Blues. The song cycle emblematically charts a human life from beginning to end, and what passed for life between "Womb" and "Death" often consisted of light, not overly tuneful world-beat/rock rhythms. They were an undercurrent for successions of overwrought and underwritten statements about existence and earnest expressions of universal Angst whose baldly primal nature didn't quite substitute for songwriting.

The full house nonetheless lapped up the latest offerings from the sultry beauty, whose unique chops--at her best, she's a bona fide white soul singer, somewhere between Phoebe Snow and Johnette Napolitano--can sometimes sell even questionable material. Childs wasn't beyond overreaching vocally, too, turning her hit "Don't Walk Away" (one of five older numbers) into nodule-scratching overkill, but the singer also proved capable of investing quieter numbers with a subtlety that made them as touching as intended.

* Toni Childs plays Friday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, 8 and 10:30 p.m. $21.50. (714) 496-8927.

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