Sharon Lewis & Texas Fire Recommended Soundboard

When: Tue., Dec. 20, 9 p.m. 2011

Not many blues artists specialize in topical songs these days, but on her first album for Delmark, The Real Deal, Sharon Lewis sounds determined to fuse the personal with the political, or at least the socially relevant. (Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes, and I also profiled Lewis in my 1996 book, Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories.) Delivered in her church-honed alto, Lewis's originals offer sardonic commentary on the current economic crisis ("What's Really Going On?"), would-be paramours more intent on control than intimacy ("You Can't Take My Life"), and blues purists quick to question the "authenticity" of her reach ("The Real Deal"). And she brings new urgency to "Please Mr. Jailer," a 1956 Wynona Carr song that Lewis believes speaks directly to the contemporary crisis among young African-American men, more of whom are behind bars than in college. "Blues Train," featuring vintage-sounding railroad riffs from harpist Billy Branch, is a tourist-friendly travelogue of Chicago's north-side blues scene, and both Lewis's reggaefied re-creation of Bill Withers's "Ain't No Sunshine" and her updating of the Ben E. King/Aretha Franklin standard "Don't Play That Song"—with accompaniment by guest pianist Roosevelt "Mad Hatter" Purifoy—showcase her gifts as an interpreter. Other originals, like the feisty anthem "Silver Fox" and the soul-­baringly autobiographical "Angel," allow Lewis to display even more of her emotional and stylistic range. —David Whiteis $10

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