Blues and R & B vocalist Ernest Baker began his career in Chicago in the 60s in the rough-and-ready band of blues guitarist Byther Smith, but soon gravitated toward the more sophisticated sounds of soul music. He became a local celebrity, working alongside such established stars as Tyrone Davis and Syl Johnson, but though he recorded for several labels and established a reputation as a stellar live performer (it's said that his dancing rivaled James Brown's and Jackie Wilson's), he never managed to find the kind of material necessary to crack the national charts. He moved to California in 1980 to record an album, but after the deal fell through he retreated from R & B and didn't come back until 1994. His current CD, King of Hearts (Evidence), finally showcases him to full advantage. Time has provided him a broad repertoire of first-rate material to draw on, including hard-core blues (Hound Dog Taylor's "Sadie"); vintage R & B and soul chestnuts (Junior Parker's "In the Dark" and Harold Barrage's "Cryin' for My Baby"); and more contemporary material by the likes of Charlie Musselwhite ("Long as I Have You") and Mick Jagger and Jimmy Rip ("Better Days"), as well as himself ("Resign"). His voice is muscular and expressive, with a hint of gospel in the embellishments and a bluesy growl that sets him apart from his crooning pop-soul contemporaries. Between the supple power of his delivery, the depth and breadth of his stylistic range, and his still-potent showmanship, he should bring a welcome dose of unforced honesty to the north side, where screaming overkill too often rules the blues roost. Sunday, 9 PM, B.L.U.E.S., 2519 N. Halsted; 773-528-1012. DAVID WHITEIS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Mark Castle.