Bernard Allison | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Bernard Allison


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In many ways Bernard Allison takes up where his father, the late Luther Allison, left off: he's inherited his dad's fiery tone and predilection for extended, arpeggio-laden lines and dramatic segues from sweet calm to loud rowdiness. But Bernard works from a broader palette: his most recent studio outing, 2002's Storms of Life (Tone-Cool), includes updated Delta slide stylings ("Slip Slidin'"), crunchy blues rock (the Stevie Ray Vaughan-influenced "Snake Bit Again"), string-sweetened romanticism ("Help Me Through the Days"), New Orleans strut (the title tune), and even reggae ("Just Do Me Any Way You Want"). On some tracks Allison's in over his head: his callow voice is ill suited to balladry, and he doesn't have the rhythmic suppleness to do justice to Crescent City funk or the one-drop island groove. In concert, though, he usually sticks to what he does best. Kentucky Fried Blues Live, recorded in 1999 at the W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival in Kentucky, captures him charging nonstop through a set of blues-rock barn burners. His take on Johnny Winter's "Good Time Woman" is a virtual survey of blues history: although his rocked-out exuberance and molten tone place it solidly in the present, his deft juxtaposition of countervailing time signatures and rhythmic interplay between vocals and guitar invoke Delta pioneer Charlie Patton. And the whirling-dervish pace and harmonic constructions of his unaccompanied slide solo hark all the way back to the Celtic influences that helped shape African-American folk music in antebellum days. The Steepwater Band opens. Saturday, April 17, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333.

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