Alvin Youngblood Hart | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Alvin Youngblood Hart



Alvin Youngblood Hart

Alvin Youngblood Hart's 1996 debut, the all-acoustic Big Mama's Door, catapulted him into the forefront of the blues revival movement, mixing up his own songs with classics by the likes of Leadbelly and Blind Willie McTell. A hip young black man in dreadlocks who played impeccably and naturally in idioms nearly a century old, Hart seemed to offer proof that folk blues was a living tradition--as many critics wanted to believe--instead of just a clubhouse for academics and preservationists. But he crossed up many of his own advocates with his second disc, Territory (Hannibal), which included everything from breezy western swing ("Tallacatcha") to a gumbo of ska, dub, blues, and R & B ("Just About to Go") and a cover of Captain Beefheart's "Ice Rose." On his latest, Start With the Soul, he diverges even more sharply from the path: crunch rockers like "Fightin' Hard" and "Manos Arriba" could almost be Gov't Mule outtakes, and the tremolo-heavy "Electric Eel" is sonically and lyrically surreal--think Dick Dale meets Aleister Crowley in the subway. Hart's take on Chuck Berry's "Back to Memphis" sounds less like Berry's brand of rock 'n' roll than an unholy hybrid of Bo Diddley's "Say Man" and the Hollies' "Long Cool Woman." Hart's memorial to Chicago guitarist Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis is a roiling roadhouse grind, while "Will I Ever Get Back Home?" is an undulating slow blues that actually has a lot more in common with Davis's bare-bones single-chord approach, right down to its Howlin' Wolf-style vocal wailing. Only "A Prophet's Mission," a deftly picked acoustic outing, retains Hart's early rootsiness. But anyone dismayed by his defection from the revivalist camp should remember that even Robert Johnson played polkas and tunes like "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" alongside his own songs. Blues music has always been about emotional honesty and devotion to craftsmanship, not sticking to a particular "pure" sound or repertoire--and Hart will have the spirit of that tradition on his side no matter what material he plays. Saturday, February 17, 10:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jay Blakesberg.

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