Not long after she started getting serious as a songwriter four or five years ago, Aby Wolf decided she didn't need money. Yep, she thought she could get by -- and maybe even be better off -- without it.

Suffice it to say she was in her early 20s and at her most idealistic/foolish.

"I saw it as a way to force my art to come out and be a sort of catalyst," Wolf recalled of her self-imposed poverty. "I quit my job and went down to beans and rice for a while. It was pretty intense."

So how'd that work out?

"Oh, it sucked. Really bad. I would never do it again."

Now 28 and a burgeoning name around town, Wolf has grown wiser without losing much of her idealism. It's all over her debut CD, "Sweet Prudence," which she's promoting Saturday at the Cedar Cultural Center.

Partly a punky coffeehouse bard à la Ani DiFranco (with whom Wolf and pal Dessa shared the State Theatre stage last year), partly an experimental indie-pop songstress in the vein of Feist (to whom she bares a vague resemblance, with her long dark hair and lanky limbs) and largely just another hippie-ish songbird with a sweet voice and an acoustic guitar (there's always room for more of those), Wolf has given the local scene its first great CD of 2009. Yeah, what took so long?

"Sweet Prudence" is loaded with soft, mellow but intense and dramatic songs, most of which could pass for mantras on how to lead a more balanced life. Some are fleshed out with strings, accordion and banjo, some with tastefully light electronic beats, and one with all of the above ("Keara," recorded with members of Dark Dark Dark).

The disc was produced and co-helmed by a seemingly unlikely collaborator, rapper Omaur Bliss. Wolf was a part of his band for a couple years, and they became kindred spirits. The rapper even makes a guest appearance on her most refined track, "What U Waitin' 4," a soulful, be-boppy ballad that recalls Corinne Bailey Rae and ends the CD on a high note.

"Omaur's music is really optimistic and positive, sort of the conscious-rap thing," she said. "Lyrically, I have a lot of the same vibe in my music. So we're doing similar things, but with very different instrumentation."

Throughout "Sweet Prudence," Wolf seems to be on a zen-driven mission to find a greater balance and sense of calm. "I want to find the conscious way," she sings in the swaying CD opener "Focus." In the more glum, truce-seeking gem "Give Listen," she instructs, "You can't move toward peace without realizing that first all movement must cease/ So close your eyes and sit with your anger while she cries."

Wolf credits her clarity-bound lyrics to the yin-and-yang difference between her quiet, rural upbringing -- with her mom near picturesque Galena, Ill. -- and her current hustle-and-bustle life in the Twin Cities, where her dad lives and she arrived after high school. Her day-to-day life here includes a waitress job and more artistic work as a painter (she recently finished a mural outside the Namaste Cafe in Uptown Minneapolis).

"Culturally speaking, I had a pretty limited and slow-moving childhood," she explained. "But after living in this city for nine years, I realize the value to live somewhere with that much space. Here, you can't find the kind of peace of mind you get from just looking across a field and seeing far off in the distance. It really has an effect on your psyche."

After hearing all that, it was no surprise Wolf gave this answer when asked if she planned to tour soon behind her new record.

"Actually, I'm going on a yoga retreat to Costa Rica in February instead," she said with a laugh. "I worked my ass off last winter and didn't leave Minneapolis once, so this winter I decided I deserved something better."

You see: Money can sometimes buy happiness -- and fuel art.

All ages, for real

Honeydogs frontman Adam Levy has gone the way of Peter Himmelman, Lisa Loeb, They Might Be Giants and Marilyn Manson and made his first kids CD. (Just kidding on Manson.) Titled "More! More! More!" and featuring songs like "Velveeta Girl and Squatsy" and "Confessions of a Teenage Lima Bean," the music on the disc is surprisingly cheeky, funky and danceable -- more in line with the '70s grind of Levy's covers band Hookers & Blow than the Honeydogs. Hookers & Blow is not a very good name to put on a kids' CD, however, so Levy is releasing the disc under the pseudonym Bunny Clogs. His CD party is Saturday morning at the Cedar Cultural Center (11 a.m., $8 for anyone over age 2).

Another Elmo-less entertainment option for cool parents: The Current/89.3 FM hosts its fourth annual Rock the Cradle bash Sunday at the Children's Theatre/Minneapolis Institute of Arts (11 a.m.-5 p.m., free). Among the highlights this year are a live set by Jeremy Messersmith, the Baby's Disco danceathon, baby yoga classes and the "instrument petting zoo." Sounds like a great Flaming Lips gimmick.

More CD parties

Six Mile Grove, the country-rock quartet led by southern Minnesota farm boys Brandon and Brian Sampson, is issuing its first album in three years with a party Saturday at Bunkers (9 p.m., $6). The lads have been active of late playing dates with Johnny Cash guitarist Bob Wootton. "Steel Mule," their fifth disc since 1997, makes it sound more like they've been out with Jay Farrar or Richard Buckner. It's full of poetic lonely-ol'-night ballads, including the title track, plus sweetly harmonized mid-tempo rockers such as "City on the State Line" and the Neil Young-ish lament "Never Going Back."

Another former small-town boy, acoustic bluesman Lonesome Dan Kase -- who first made his mark locally with the Crush Collision Trio -- has a CD party tonight at the Riverview Cafe, 3753 42nd Av S., Mpls. (8-10 p.m.). The finger-picking guitar wiz channels the likes of Robert Lockwood Jr., Leadbelly and Son House on his fourth solo collection, "So Glad I'm Livin'," full of 12 hotly delivered all-acoustic tracks, including three clever originals.

Random mix

Finally returning to the stage for two 7th Street Entry shows Saturday, the Alarmists have been pretty busy offstage working on a new album with producer Andrew Lynch, who helmed Earlimart's excellent 2008 CD "Hymn & Her." They spent 10 days last month with Lynch recording at Flyte Tyme Studio in Edina (yep, it's still there). Look for the new disc around mid-summer. Sick of Sarah opens both of Saturday's gigs (6 and 10 p.m., $7). ...

Tickets to last weekend's benefit for local sound engineer Chad Weis at First Avenue sold out not long after folks got a look at the all-star local lineup with Mason Jennings, Cloud Cult, Haley Bonar and more. There's still a chance to help out Weis, who amassed massive medical bills from extensive nasal surgery last fall. An eBay auction site has been set up with items such as Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits passes and a signed Jack Johnson surfboard. There's a link to the auction, which ends Monday, at MasonJennings.com. ...

With a press release featuring praising blurbs from Jello Biafra and Radiohead's Colin Greenwood, Light in the Attic Records announced an April 14 release of a new compilation CD as well as a reissue of the first LP by the Monks, the pioneering '60s garage-rock band led by Gary Burger, who's currently the mayor of Turtle River, Minn. Not sure if those mayoral duties would prevent a reunion of the surviving Monks, but let's hope not.

chrisr@startribune.com • 612-673-4658