By Bret McCabe The only real difference between a songwriter like Baltimore's Liz Downing and, say, ex-Beat Happening walking hissy fit Calvin Johnson is a couple of hundred fans. Not thousands. Not a few zine covers or interviews. Just a couple of hundred fans. That's all it really would've taken for Downing's previous outfit, the strangely sublime Lambs Eat Ivy, to find an audience outside Charm City in the early 1990s, then get it's lone Merkin Records album circulating through the sort of international pop underground that turned Beat Happening into the reason self-conscious college students started bands. Then Lambs Eat Ivy could've shared it's country/folk-tinted chamber pop with a generation of young people who would go batshit for insurgent country in a matter of years. But instead, Baltimore gets to keep Downing's talents for itself. And in her current project, Radiant Pig, she's wrapped her idiosyncratic songwriting sense around a more conventional rock instrumentation than Ivy's acoustic trio. Doesn't matter--Downing has a knack for making the traditional singularly odd: The straight-ahead rocker 'Giant Flower' is about a whole world that possibly lives beneath it's titular canopy; the upbeat honky-tonk of 'Frozen Underground' may be about remembering dead relatives; and the genuinely weird 'Lancet Fluke' uses the parasitic worm that lives in cow dung as a springboard for nature ruminations. All of Daily Grace is just such a pleasing mix of lyrical whimsy and musical agility. Some of Grace's subjects border on the sentimental--such as 'Piggly Wiggly,' about a kid getting lost in the grocery store--that could easily turn into picturesque preciousness or ironic camp. But just as writer/director Alexander Payne knows and loves the Nebraskan Midwesterners in his movies, Downing holds no contempt for the people in her songs, such as the kid who likes that her mother 'sang Doris Day just like Doris Day.' The conviction that holds everything together is Downing's voice, the most singularly captivating and expressive instrument on the album. Not only is her tonal range impressive, but she swings through lovely vocalizations, yodeling trills, and throaty gasps that make you think of what Björk may have sounded like if she grew up in the American South. Downing flows through all of these acrobatics with an effortless Polish--dig the continuous waterfall of notes she peels off in 'Scales'--and it lends Grace a haunting, ethereal beauty. Email Bret McCabe.