Shirley Brown | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Shirley Brown

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When she arrived at Stax Records in 1974, Shirley Brown had a voice that "could challenge Aretha Franklin," as label historian Robert Bowman put it. She came of age on the competitive R & B circuit around Saint Louis, working alongside luminaries like Oliver Sain and Little Milton. Blues guitarist Albert King, an early booster, brought her to Stax; her first single, the infidelity classic "Woman to Woman," topped the R & B charts and sold more than a million copies, but the label folded the following year and her career never regained momentum. Brown still sings with a scorched-soul intensity; but it's painful to hear her perform fluff like "Poon Tang Man," the lead track on her latest album, Woman Enough (Malaco). She does much better with "(I've Got to) Sleep With One Eye Open," Frederick Knight's number about a woman caught in a relationship with a man whose sexual appetite becomes predatory; Brown's fabled theatricality and emotional rawness elevate the sordid vignette to something approaching high drama. Bobby Womack headlines; Latimore, Clarence Carter, Willie Clayton, and Big Mack open. Sat 2/5, 6 PM, Arie Crown Theater, McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Dr., 312-791-6190 or 312-559-1212, $55. All ages.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.

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