Mississippi Juke Joint Caravan | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Mississippi Juke Joint Caravan


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In northern Mississippi hill country lives a blues sound so raw and primal even hardened Yankee critics have been left awestruck. Characterized by melodies based on modal themes, it's driven by rhythmic patterns that were around long before modern shuffle backbeats were conceived. Guitarist R.L. Burnside is one of the form's leading practitioners. His performances at fellow bluesman David "Junior" Kimbrough's juke on Route 4 between Holly Springs and Senatobia can transform a Saturday evening bash into a summoning of ancestral spirits: Burnside's slide sears into the night like an invocation; drums and dancers' feet pound out rhythms that feel as if they're emanating from the tortured Mississippi earth itself. Paul "Wine" Jones hails from the Delta, but his style is similar to Burnside's and even more raucous. Dave Thompson's full-frontal attack, though more contemporary, is as harsh and uncompromising as those of his colleagues. All three guitarists are playing as part of the Juke Joint Caravan, a vehicle for Fat Possum Records of Oxford, Mississippi, to showcase talented but relatively obscure rural bluesmen. You probably have to experience this music on its home turf to fully appreciate it, but if Burnside's and Thompson's performances at the 1995 Chicago Blues Festival were any indication, these artists' shamanic powers are sufficient to transform even the most jaded gathering into something as close to a timeless ritual as you're likely to find this side of a New Orleans seance. Saturday, 10 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 427-0333 or 427-1190. DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.

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