Sleepy LaBeef | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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At the right wee hour, a good jukebox can make time disappear--every song feels present tense, direct and personal. When you hear Sleepy LaBeef referred to as "the Human Jukebox," think of him in that sense. LaBeef's repertoire, which he estimates contains 6,000 songs, reflects the diversity of the music he heard growing up in Arkansas in the 30s and 40s--hillbilly and western swing, jump blues, R & B, urban blues, gospel--and he delivers it all with the immediacy of a man singing it for the first time and taking it to heart. On his most recent CD of new material, 2000's Tomorrow Never Comes (MC), LaBeef applies his basso profundo roar to honky-tonk classics like the title song (a hit for Ernest Tubb in 1945) and Hank Williams's "The Blues Come Around," digs deeper into his roots on the Flatt & Scruggs bluegrass warhorse "Rolling in My Sweet Baby's Arms," and resurrects long-lost C & W nuggets like the Bailes Brothers' mid-40s lament "I Want to Be Loved." He also immerses himself jubilantly in the swamp-noir goofiness of Tony Joe White's "Polk Salad Annie." The only time the deeply religious LaBeef sounds less than convincing is when the material calls for nastiness, lasciviousness, or intoxication: he croons rather than snarls the title command of Big Joe Turner's "Honey Hush," and his in-concert version of Dave Dudley's "Six Days on the Road" finds the weary narrator "drinking hot black coffee" instead of "taking little white pills" to stay awake. Thursday, April 15, 9 PM, B.L.U.E.S., 2519 N. Halsted; 773-528-1012.

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