By Josh Hertzog   Published Mar 24, 2005 at 5:22 AM

{image1} It's not very often that you meet a musical performer that teaches first grade by day and rocks out by night. Enter stage left, Tamara Pierce.

This earthy, light-hearted rock musician takes on the under-appreciated job of preparing kids for the future, and then stashes her pencils and crayons and prepares songs for the masses.

"I juggle both jobs on about four hours sleep," Pierce says. And for the most part, she keeps the two separate, except when she makes up little songs for her little students.

Born and raised in Kenosha, Pierce experimented with life in Florida and Guam, but ended up returning to her hometown to be near her family, the inspiration for and influence on much of her musical talent.

"I listened to a variety of stuff while growing up: Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Pearl Jam, Jethro Tull, and even some opera that my mom got me into," she says.

These influences come together in Pierce's debut album, "Caught Looking Out." The 12-song disc, inspired by the human experience and emotion, provides a variety of songs that range from The Cranberries to Sheryl Crow. And to help her out -- Pierce takes the reins with vocals and guitar -- Aaron Rimkus is on bass and harmonica, Mike Ramsdell is on guitar, and her 14-year-old son Brennan plays drums.

"I bought him a drum kit, and I thought it would just collect dust and never be played. I was pleasantly surprised," Pierce says.

Just as her son taught himself to play drums, Pierce taught herself to play guitar and has played professionally for six years. She also played keyboards for a band back in the '80s.

But Pierce's talents, specifically her vocals in the case of the r&b-infused opening track, "You Linger," seem to be hiding somewhere later on the disc, as the opener lacks a hook to draw listeners in. Instead, a mellow, almost monotonous feel is evoked.

But just in time, the next track, Pierce's award-winning "Hey Bobby" provides relief as she finally belts out a few lyrics. This should have been the first song on the album.

"It's a song to get eyebrows raised a little, but there's no actual Bobby in mind here," Pierce says. "It's a metaphor for the opposite sex persuasion."

"Close to Me," the fifth track, is a stand out with an acoustic flavor and perfectly complementary vocal.

The disc is a solid effort, with strong instrumentals and beats that grab, but while Pierce has a voice that'll bring the house down, she only seems to be knocking on the door here. However, her earthy and grounded acoustic songs played live possess a gravitational pull that'll make you forget about any of that.

"My main objective is to communicate and connect," she says. "It's a show of original songs, giving them something they can relate to. This band is as close as a family as you'll see in a band."

Pierce plays at Rochambo, 1317 E. Brady St., on Thursday, March 24. Call (414) 291-0095 for more information.