Cracking the soul code is a damn near impossible task: how did 60s labels like Stax, Volt, Hi, and Josie get that sound? The delicate mix of dirt and polish is as elusive as a good recipe for cheese grits, but Chicago's own Crown Royals have come as close as anyone to nailing it on their debut disc, All Night Burner (Estrus). A few years of consistent gigging--they pack the Bluebird Lounge on Clybourn with sweaty groove seekers on the last Sunday of every month--has sharpened them from a solid instrumental soul band into a musical machete. Ken Vandermark's tenor-saxophone lead cuts mercilessly; for folks who know Vandermark from jazz and experimental contexts, here he's a diligently funky, soulful honker and riffer. Pete Nathan's sweetly nasty guitar sound should make Steve Cropper nervous, while bassist Mark Blade and drummer Jeff BBQ hold down the fort without hoopla. While their earlier tunes tended to emphasize a sound very reminiscent of the New Orleans funk essentialists the Meters, their latest batch of original numbers (only one cover, an odd, obscure James Brown hummer called "In the Middle") is less singular in its references, encompassing the hot Latin breeze of "Boss Nova" and the soul-jazz tactic of tandem guitar and sax lines on the title track. And for fans of the Meters, there's still the supergroovalistic syncopation of "Boomerang." This concert celebrates the release of All Night Burner. Friday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. JOHN CORBETT
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Harry Kapsalis.