Blues singer Little Al Thomas largely models himself on suave stylists like B.B. King, but the force of his delivery and the pugnaciousness of his phrasing reflect the decades he spent shouting over crowds on Maxwell Street. That training also sharpened his instincts as a crowd-pleaser: he can rock hard enough for a beer-soaked roadhouse but has enough church in his thick vocals to satisfy fans of down-home soul. He's sometimes struggled to reconcile styles on record, but 2002's In the House (CrossCut), recorded live in 2000 at a blues fest in Lucerne, Switzerland, captures Thomas at his best, performing with his longtime group the Crazy House Band. He effortlessly matches King's trademark octave leaps and melodic lines but eschews B.B.'s sweetness; even at his most elegant, Thomas is a roaring bull and proud of it. His tour de force is "Memphis Girl," a Coasters-style tune by Crazy House Band guitarist John Edelmann: pleading and shouting in an intentionally over-the-top caricature of the lust-crazed soul man, Thomas contorts his tone to the point of abstraction, then slides effortlessly into a series of extended, spot-on gospel wails. It's a tantalizing glimpse of what a blues journeyman can do when he's supplied with fresh material. The Barrelhouse Chuck Band, which includes Crazy House Band drummer Thomas "Mot" Dutko, backs Thomas at this show. Fri 2/25, 9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage, 773-342-0452, $10.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.