Her voice falls between the husky swagger of Grace Slick and the placid charm of Joni Mitchell, with stripped psychedelic instrumentation and acoustic textures reflecting such retro influences. Although Chicago's Ripley Caine lets her love affair with late '60s/early '70s classic rock show on her recently released CD "Lover" (Sweet Pickle Music), vintage preservation isn't the only part of her musical dichotomy. "P.J. Harvey has also been a huge influence and of course I'm moved by someone like Jeff Buckley," she says. "But I'm not a Buckley ripoff. This city's already got too many of those."

Instead of covering the same ground as the city's countless emerging singer-songwriters (many of whom indeed ape the aforementioned "Mystery White Boy"), Caine veers off the beaten path with atmospheric texturing surrounded by brutally honest lyrics. "I'll be the first one to write about how my recent divorce or losing my father to a heart attack when I was younger has affected me," Caine says. "I also tried to balance those dark explanations with what I've learned from each situation and what it's like to start anew."

Caine has noticed that as she's revealed such personal narratives throughout her last five years of performing, audiences have grown increasingly receptive. Yet even after slugging it out on the road (averaging 150 shows a year) and earning grassroots acceptance, a major label recording contract has yet to materialize. "My honest opinion is that making it in the music industry has nothing to do with anything except luck," she says. "It's not because you're a talented musician or songwriter, it's because you're big-chested and skinny and can be sold like a commodity or a stock."

She adds: "That's just vile and makes me want to puke."

Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Caine has chosen to channel her frustrations by serving on the board of directors for Women in Rock, a St. Louis-based outfit that seeks to promote independent female artists. "Through serving on the board and performing on behalf of the cause, artists like Ripley are making people aware that other females besides Britney and Christina matter," says organization founder Jeff Harlan. "Hopefully her work will help open the eyes of this screwed-up industry to start focusing on some amazing underground talent."

Originally published Friday, Oct. 9, 2002.

Argyrakis is a Chicago freelance writer.