Ruby Andrews | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Ruby Andrews, born Ruby Stackhouse in Mississippi in 1947, moved to Chicago in the early 50s and began her singing career in '64, in a doo-wop group called the Vondells. In 1967 her second release under her own name, the lushly produced single "Casanova (Your Playing Days Are Over)" (Zodiac), charted nationally, becoming part of the template for the influential Chicago soft-soul sound. Though most people continue to associate Andrews with this kind of stylized pop R & B ("Casanova" is still her biggest hit), her subsequent Zodiac outings--like 1968's incendiary "You Can Run (But You Can't Hide)" and her screaming, full-frontal version of Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog," released in 1971--showed a grittier side, which she'd continue to explore in the decades to come. A handful of late-70s sides and a 1991 album called Kiss This failed to make much noise, but in the mid-90s Andrews earned an introduction to a new generation of fans with her steamy single "Footprints on the Ceiling"--its sound was hard southern soul with a pronounced streak of straight blues. And her most recent album, 1998's Hip Shakin' Mama (Ripete), seems designed to appeal to the blues-rock audience by foregrounding the guitar; there's a single sax instead of a full soul horn section, and a conspicuous absence of synths. Andrews's voice is still as supple and strong as fine leather, and her versatility and emotional commitment are likewise undiminished. The airy pop-funk tune "Chance" recalls her glory days on Zodiac, and her vocal line on "A Lesson in Leavin'" weaves gracefully through a lilting, Caribbean-flavored arrangement spiced with a heady, soulful sax break. On "Fishin' for a Man" a whip-cracking guitar lead pulls the song back and forth between blues and blues rock, while Andrews delivers the wry lyrics with sassy ebullience. Her boogie-blooze reprise of "Footprints" may frustrate listeners who prefer the sensuality of the original, but on the title track, a lusty stop-time anthem, her fusion of show-lounge sophistication and libidinous aggression ought to win over soul-blues aficionados and roadhouse rockers alike. This show is part of Ladyfest Midwest (see sidebar). Saturday, August 18, 9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.

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