Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Mississippi Juke Joint Caravan

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Following the excitement generated by the blues documentary Deep Blues, the Oxford, Mississippi, label Fat Possum Records has spent the last three years releasing albums by the obscure but phenomenal bluesmen who fuel the raucous energy of the low-down juke joints in north Mississippi hill country. Regardless of style, most contemporary blues loses its urgency in the process of commodification--increasingly high-gloss rock-steeped production, reliance on compositional cliches, and a dying repertoire have contributed to the current sad state of the genre. Not yet crippled by the greedy hands of capitalism, the music of rural juke joints has retained its vibrant social, celebratory, and therapeutic powers. Fifty-eight-year-old Junior Kimbrough has run his own wooden-shack juke joint for some 30 years, and as a pair of recent recordings demonstrate, he's the shaman of that scene. Settling into trance-out grooves, Kimbrough patiently peels off lengthy, mesmerizing single-note lines that overcome the listener before he or she recognizes that a spell has been cast. Nearing 70, R.L. Burnside is surprisingly the most raunchy and manic of Fat Possum's artists--so alive, in fact, that on a recently completed string of live dates with pomo roots shitkickers the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion he often joined them for some crazed encores. On his deliriously slapdash Too Bad Jim his slashing, Fred McDowell-inspired guitar lines eschew technical perfection for potent emotional immediacy. The bill is rounded out by 24-year-old roughneck Dave Thompson, the guitarist in Roosevelt "Booba" Barnes's Playboys before its leader took off for Chicago. His recent debut album, Little Dave and Big Love, bypasses the pungent Delta roots of Kimbrough and Burnside in favor of an equally raw take on the fiery lines of Albert King. Not just for blues fans and not to be missed. Friday, 9 PM, Koko Taylor's Chicago Blues, 7 W. Division; 337-2583. Saturday, 11:30 AM, Chicago Blues Festival, Grant Park, Front Porch Stage, Columbus and Jackson; 744-3312.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photos/Bill Steber; Ron Keith.

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