Before he returned to his native North Carolina in the early 80s to work as a gospel singer, keyboardist-vocalist Calvin "Skeeter" Brandon put in time as a sideman with both soul-blues singer Clarence Carter and the doo-wop group the Chi-Lites. Now he's finally come back to the blues, and though his most recent recording, License to Thrill (New Moon), saddles him with a so-so earlier version of his current backup band, Hwy 61, his raw talent shines through. His organ work combines fiery gospel with sensuous R & B, and he's a fearless and fervent vocalist--transcendent rather than merely hysterical. Both the title tune and "Success" showcase his churchy vocals at their most inspirational; he roars out Elmore James's "The Sky Is Crying" as if trying to shout down the thunder, and his keyboard lays a broad foundation beneath Armand Lenchek's shimmering slide-guitar lead. The high-velocity "So Sad, So Bad," by contrast, reeks of sweat, smoke, and Jim Beam, and the contemporary soul-blues outing "No Finance, No Romance," with its good-natured innuendo, would fit comfortably into a Bobby Rush set. For the ballad "You Bring Out the Best in Me" Brandon even summons a well-rounded croon, sounding a bit like Bobby Womack at his most seductive. Since the album's release Brandon's been touring tirelessly, earning accolades both for his craftsmanship and his passion. His fusion of sophistication and guttiness bodes well, both for his own future and for the continued relevance of the blues itself. Friday, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. DAVID WHITEIS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.