Johnny "Yard Dog" Jones | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Johnny "Yard Dog" Jones

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I don't know why they call Detroit's Johnny Jones "Yard Dog"; it seems to me that "Moanin' Wolf" might be more exact. His guitar playing has a sweet mournfulness that's remindful of mid-period Johnny Heartsman--he even borrows Heartsman's "moaning" technique--and his voice modulates from the barking grittiness one would expect of an Arkansas native to a soulful vibrato. What's probably most amazing about the Yard Dog--who's spent most of his life in Detroit, creating his own particular fusion of blues, pop, and soul--is that he's managed to avoid the dreaded Motown assembly-line pop-soul anonymity. Sometimes his leads sound a little too derivative of the string-bending Kings; sometimes his lyrics drift uncomfortably close to cliche. But then he digs into his heart and comes up with a plaintive ballad with words as stark as the melody ("I'd rather be on public welfare / I'd rather be lost in space somewhere. . . . I'd rather be anything but without you"), his guitar weeps shimmering jewels of sorrow, and you realize you're in the presence of an unfinished but potentially explosive talent. Friday, Rosa's, 3420 W. Armitage; 342-0452.

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