Lonnie Shields's 1992 debut, Portrait (Rooster Blues), mixed roiling funk and primal blues with enough polish to please fans of southern soul-blues and enough raw energy for the boogie-till-you-drop roadhouse crowd. But the guitarist and singer seems to have lost his sense of direction since then. Tired of Waiting (JSP), from 1996, paired his full voice with accompaniment so spare and flat it often sounded like a demo; his follow-up, Blues Is on Fire, had a little more punch to it, but still didn't approach the blend of grease and grandeur on Portrait. For his newest, Midnight Delight, Shields is back at Rooster, and though his intensity has again been muffled by tepid production, if you crank up the volume and listen hard you can get an idea what he's really capable of: "Long Lonesome Road" burbles instead of boogies, but Shields distinguishes it with sharp Albert King-style descending guitar figures and appropriately desperate vocals; on "Lookin' Up at the Blues" he personifies the blues as a demonic presence, in prototypical Delta fashion, and alternates between choppy chords and smooth, concise single-string leads. "What Am I Gonna Do With All These Women?" chugs along in an amiable Bobby Rush-style funk-blues groove, and the instrumental "DeSoto Bridge" showcases his two-sided solo style--though he can pull off shimmering, elegant string bends, his melodies are linear and straightforward, almost crude. Perhaps most notable is "Flowers in the Rain": it's a cloying ballad with lyrics worthy of Hallmark ("If flowers can grow through the rain / I know that love can grow through the pain"), but Shields's gritty sincerity somehow redeems it. Tuesday, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. DAVID WHITEIS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.