Larry Garner | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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Larry Garner's output since the early 90s has earned the Louisiana guitarist an international reputation as a rootsy, soul-influenced contemporary bluesman with a withering wit and a gift for trenchant social commentary. His latest, this year's Embarrassment to the Blues? (Ruf), is a somewhat murkily recorded live disc that showcases him at his most fearless and confrontational. On the harrowing "Where the Blues Turn Black"--an apparent allegory for the perils of blues life--he spins nightmarish imagery ("Over there is the valley where the shadows steal your name...They'll lay your wounds wide open and salt 'em with lies, guilt, and shame") over an ironically buoyant pop-blues backing. On "The Haves and the Have Nots," again supported by deceptively lightweight music, he proclaims solidarity with "the working man and woman" struggling against "crooked politicians hooked up with foreign coalitions." "Had to Quit Drinking" is both an admission of personal frailty ("The last time I got drunk onstage, it was an embarrassment to the blues") and a tale of triumph: as the band lays down a breezy Texas-fried shuffle, Garner fires off quicksilver notes and rasps out his tale of victory over demon rum--while slipping in some acerbic jabs at the nightclub patrons plying musicians with free drinks. Even when he gets romantic, Garner keeps his edge: on the wispy, Latin-tinged ballad "Somebody," he chops up lead phrases, flirts with dissonance, and inserts Wes Montgomery-like chord patterns between skittering single-note runs. Most provocative, though, is the spoken "Larryism 1/11," on which he unleashes his worldview at its most caustic: "Terrorism is not a new word for me. Terrorism has been in my life since the day I was born. But it wasn't a big word! I'm just glad now it's a big word--and maybe the world will really do something about it!" Friday, July 18, 9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.

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