George Stancell | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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George Stancell

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The word journeyman usually isn't intended as a compliment in music criticism, but it's high praise in the case of sexagenarian singer-guitarist George Stancell, who's been plying his rough-hewn brand of blues-inflected soul for decades. Little known outside Milwaukee, Stancell was discovered playing at his own club there in the late 90s by vocalist Johnny Rawls, who was working as an A and R man for JSP Records; Stancell recorded his 1999 debut album, Gorgeous George, for the label. His guitar leads bore forward with a steely force, yet they're supple and flexible enough to skip nimbly over, under, and around whatever rhythmic challenges his sidemen throw into the mix. Likewise, his vocals combine prowess with nuance: sometimes coming off like a juke-joint Johnnie Taylor, at others like a less churchy O.V. Wright, he delivers gospel-infused rave-ups ("Stop Your Cryin'"), desolate hard-time soul laments ("Standin' in the Rain"), and rollicking Memphis-to-Chicago rockers ("Except Me") with muscularity and flawless intonation. But he also employs a daringly wide vibrato that can convey existential isolation, the vulnerability of faith, and erotic hunger. Whether he's playing 12-bar shuffle blues or funk-inflected soul balladry, Stancell delivers the goods with the pugnacity and instinct of a veteran juker: he hits you where you need it most and then gets out of the way. Sat 2/18, 10 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage, 773-342-0452, $12.

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