Big Jack Johnson | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Big Jack Johnson

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There are a lot of common stereotypes about Delta bluesmen: they're emotionally intense but artistically limited, possessed by visions of death, erotic catastrophe, and existential despair. After a lifetime of that, they die young. Ebullient Big Jack Johnson from Clarksdale, Mississippi, joyfully dispels these myths, making music that's as powerful and robust as his physical constitution, which he developed working for oil refineries around the Delta. He'll take a folkie war-horse like "Tom Dooley" and transform it into a juke-joint jump--replete with echoes of everything from Elmore James's slide guitar to the hillbilly hipsterisms of Bob Wills--then plunge effortlessly into a backwoods deep-blues classic like "Catfish Blues." Johnson is a superb improviser: he's especially adept at infusing even the darkest themes with optimistic twists. And as Delta bluesmen have done at least since the days of Charlie Patton, Johnson uses themes both venerable and new to create a sound that appeals to devotees of both. Friday and Saturday, 9:30 PM, Rosa's, 3420 W. Armitage; 342-0452.

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

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