Randy Weeks | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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RANDY WEEKS

A decade before there was a catchphrase for it, Los Angeles quietly developed a thriving country underground, which was documented on a series of compilation albums called "A Town South of Bakersfield." The three volumes, released between 1985 and 1992, introduced artists like Dwight Yoakam, Rosie Flores, Jim Lauderdale, Lucinda Williams, and Dale Watson, but most of the participants failed to parlay the recognition into real fame. The Lonesome Strangers, basically the duo of Randy Weeks and Jeff Rymes, had a tune on the first installment, and although they subsequently released three albums of twangy roots rock marked by wonderful vocal harmonies in the tradition of the Delmores, the Louvins, and the Everlys, the closest they got to the big time was a minor country hit with a cover of Johnny Horton's "Goodbye Lonesome (Hello, Baby Doll)" and a job singing backup on Yoakam's Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room. The group's final album, Land of Opportunity, came out in 1997 and disappeared without a trace, but I doubt the same fate will befall Madeline (Hightone), Weeks's excellent solo debut. It's a record that looks dull on paper: the lyrics are standard broken-heart fare, the most distinctive thing about Weeks's voice is a distant echo of Gram Parsons, and the structures have fewer twists than a Kansas freeway. Weeks keeps it simple even when approximating Stax-era soul on "Gimme Back My Soul" and "Don't Step Away." But the songs are great, and extremely well executed, with lots of nice touches: "Can't Let Go," which Williams covered on her Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, is a funky shuffle; "Last DWI" brings in a touch of bluegrass; and "Long Ride Home" mixes Chuck Berry-style rock 'n' roll with Tex-Mex organ licks. Saturday, 11 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508. PETER MARGASAK

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