Although grounded in the guitar-oriented, rock-influenced blues considered "mainstream" by modern white audiences, Larry Garner's sound includes enough soulful seasonings--fatback percussion, churchy organ, and his own grainy, gospel-tinged vocals--to be attractive to soul-blues aficionados as well. His lyrics are among the most trenchant in contemporary blues, even if he sometimes seems to step back from their implications: The breezy funk-blues arrangement of "Where Blues Turn Black," from last year's Once Upon the Blues (Ruf), all but drains the blood from lines like "They'll lay your wounds wide open / And salt them with lies, guilt, and shame." And the rowdy exuberance of "A Real Gambling Woman," a grinding, stop-time blues heated up by Seiji Yuguchi's harp squalls and Garner's own sparse but piercing solo, detracts a bit from the pathos of a household torn apart by the lure of easy money. But Garner can also breathe new life into tried-and-true themes with his offbeat sense of humor: In "I Ain't the One" he rebuffs a fan's advances, but not because he fears an angry husband--he's rattled by her "Picasso fingernails" and kinky sexual proclivities. And "That Was Her Dance," propelled by Ernest Williamson's burbling organ vamps, is an affectionate portrait of an eccentric juke-joint reveler who "rattled when she twitched." Even when a song falls short musically, it's likely to be redeemed by its words: "Klepto" is saved from total boogie-cliche overload by Garner's thoughtful lyrics about the woes of being romantically involved with a compulsive shoplifter. It's heartening to see a young bluesman make his mark with meticulous craftsmanship instead of pyrotechnic overkill. Tuesday, January 23, 9 PM, B.L.U.E.S., 2519 N. Halsted; 773-528-1012. Wednesday, January 24, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. Friday, January 26, 9:30 PM, Famous Dave's, 739 N. Clark; 312-266-2400.