Rosalie Sorrels | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Rosalie Sorrels

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"Dave Van Ronk is one of my favorite men," Rosalie Sorrels once said of the folk troubadour who died last February. "He's got such a gentle heart, but he shows it in this real strong, brave kind of way." The same could be said of Sorrels, who's headlining a tribute to Van Ronk that also features Spider John Koerner, Mark Dvorak, and Chris Walz. Sorrels came of age in Boise in the 50s, enamored of Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker, and her songs are populated by winos, death row inmates, homeless children, and single mothers (like herself). But these are tales of survival, not exercises in pathos--"I am a lady in spite of hell!" one character exclaims. Like the jazz singers she admires, Sorrels often phrases as if she's thinking in triplets; she'll ease into a verse on an offbeat, then pause an extra breath to return to tempo. She can tease a melodic line like a horn player, subtly flowing over and under it, and she supplements her reedy twang with a thick vibrato almost suitable for gospel. The stories Sorrels tells in concert bring a universal perspective to even her most intimate material: "Hitchhiker in the Rain," from 1995's Borderline Heart, is both a memorial to her son David, who committed suicide in 1976, and a lament for what Sorrels sees as the lost spirit of the 60s. "What have we done to ourselves," she asks, "that we've become afraid of our own children?" The show is a benefit for the Dave Van Ronk Scholarship Fund. Friday, January 24, 7:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.

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