Sunnyland Slim | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Sunnyland Slim


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Sunnyland Slim sometimes struggles a bit under the weight of his 87 years--his legendary voice has become almost as frail as his body, which for so long seemed to defy the laws of nature and time--but he wears the mantle of Chicago blues patriarch with dignity and retains the stylistic individuality that's distinguished him since his Delta development in the 20s and 30s. At that time young pianists like Little Brother Montgomery were beginning to add a jazz-tinged sophistication to the older generation's barrelhouse stylings, and Sunnyland listened hard to the innovators while absorbing the emotional honesty and rhythmic drive of the traditionalists. The result was a highly personalized style--shimmering treble cascades laid over propulsive bass patterns, lyrics in turn ribald and wise. These days his power and imagination occasionally falter in a way that would have been unimaginable even five years ago, but he's still capable of embellishments that delight even longtime admirers--I recently saw him do a tender yet hilarious impersonation of John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson's famous speech impediment as he ran through a medley of Williamson standards--and at this point any performance by this beloved master is a treasure to savor. Monday, 10 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 427-0333 or 427-1190.

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

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