Guitarist Lurrie Bell, son of harmonica whiz Carey, has struggled with mental illness for most of his adult life, and his recent recordings have been frustratingly uneven: 1999's Blues Had a Baby (Delmark), for example, juxtaposes his well-crafted solos with a handful of distracted, semicoherent outtakes. But his forthcoming CD, Cuttin' Heads (Vypyr), is his most fully realized and consistent in years. On "I've Got a Watch on You," he infuses his supple, long-phrased leads with rigorous melodic logic, while on Little Milton's "It's 4:59 in the Morning" he lays sharply sliced phrases atop Dave Rice's burbling organ and Reggie Wright's crisp funk-blues drumming, blurting out the lyrics with blunt aggression. On his version of Buddy Guy's "A Man and the Blues," one of his favorite pyrotechnic showcases, he punctuates his manic flurries with carefully constructed ascents and descents, complex curlicues, and soaring screams--and the outrage and terror in his voice perfectly suits Guy's harrowing lyrics: "Sometimes I feel almost like drinkin' me some gasoline / Strikin' me a match / And blow my fool self up in steam." The southern-fried "I'll Be Your 44," buttressed by punchy riffs from the three-piece Heritage Horn Section, strains Bell's somewhat thin voice, but his solo is magnificent, beginning as a buzzing swarm of notes and gradually sorting itself into a skintight linear theme. He brings just enough grit to the Howlin' Wolf chestnut "Smokestack Lightning," and on the 12-bar romp "Call Me on the Phone," by Chicago guitarist Boston Blackie, he shows off his battery of post-Magic Sam west-side guitar licks. (His father also seasons both these tunes with his broad-toned harp work.) But it's performances like Bob Jones's "Leaning Tree"--where Bell's hot picking and molten tone complement rather than overwhelm the world-weary, nightclubby mood evoked by Rice's keyboard--that bode especially well for the future. Despite the proverbial stones in his passway, Bell still seems to have the passion and imagination to blaze his own trail. Saturday, January 6, 9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.