Even at the grand old age of 84, Pinetop Perkins sometimes sounds as if he's discovering the glory of the blues for the first time. The pianist, who began his career in the jukes and barrelhouses of the Mississippi Delta in the late 20s and appeared for a time alongside Sonny Boy Williamson on the fabled King Biscuit radio show, is best known now for his years with Muddy Waters. He left Muddy in 1980 and, after a stint with the Legendary Blues Band, finally went off to establish himself as a headliner. On his latest album, Down in Mississippi (Hightone), a sense of wonder still pervades his barrelhouse stomps, postwar jump blues, and Chicago classics. The originals include "Song for Sunnyland Slim," a tender, witty tribute to the late keyboard great, and "Pinetop's Piano Shuffle," which feels like a novelty tune, almost vaudevillian with its oompahing stride bass line and vintage pop-blues melody. But Perkins really excels at remaking standards in his own image. On "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie"--which he claims to have written for Clarence "Pinetop" Smith, to whom the song is universally credited--his right-hand lines skitter over his left hand's elemental but effective bass boogie as he shouts out dance instructions like "Hold yourself, stop! Now, get it!" On Leroy Carr's mournful classic "How Long," he adds understated personal signatures, a graceful ascent here, a melancholy ballad chord there. And he fills out the wide-open stop-time rhythms of "Just a Teenie Weenie Bit" with two-handed interplay, laying notes and chords alongside and atop each other like a kinetic sculptor. If you think the blues has run out of surprises, Perkins is the man to see. Friday and Saturday, 9:30 PM, Rosa's, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452. DAVID WHITEIS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.