Joi | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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On her 1994 debut, The Pendulum Vibe, and its never-released follow-up, Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome, Atlanta soul singer Joi Gilliam Gipp delivered a wild strain of funked-up rock 'n' soul that positioned her as an outsize freak channeling the intense spirit of 70s soul-funk diva Betty Davis. This certainly differentiated her from the pack, but she also sounded like she was trying too hard: though the music had a unique flavor, the instrumental tracks were often harsh or hollow, or badly mismatched with her singing. Recently she replaced Dawn Robinson as the vocalist in Lucy Pearl, a now-defunct all-star group with Raphael Saadiq and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and this March she finally released a new solo album. She's still very much her own woman on Star Kitty's Revenge (Universal), but her sexed-up blend of deep funk and soul seems to flow effortlessly now. Mixing a few tracks herself as well as working with a handful of empathetic, chart-proven R & B producers--including Saadiq and Dallas Austin, both of whom masterfully manipulate electronic textures to sound roomy and organic--Joi roams through a wide variety of stylistic settings. On "Techno Pimp," which embraces hip-hop's player mentality, she's a pure badass, strutting over rapidly stuttering electronic beats. On "Crave" she sashays with arched-back lasciviousness, while "Lick" dispenses with longing and heads straight for satisfaction ("I lose all control when you grab ahold and you do your trick / I love it when you lick"). Sex can be a weapon, too: in "Get On" she sends her cheating husband packing, tormenting him by describing herself underneath another man "with my legs behind my head." Thankfully, the whole album's not a freak fest--"Jefferson St. Joe" is a tender ode to Joi's departed father, former NFL quarterback Joe Gilliam. At 19 tracks, Star Kitty's Revenge is definitely too long, and some of the tunes are hollow and monotonous, but Joi's voice has power and range, and her personality is hard to resist. Wednesday, August 7, 7 PM, Skyline Stage, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand; 312-595-7437 or 312-559-1212.

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

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