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Super Chikan

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SUPER CHIKAN

Mississippian James "Super Chikan" Johnson claims that a childhood fascination with chickens let him understand their language--which at least in part accounts for his cackling guitar style and raucous vocal imitations of barnyard fowl. But despite the bumpkin act, his 1997 debut, Blues Come Home to Roost (Rooster Blues), runs surprisingly deep: on "Down in the Delta" he undercuts his own bucolic portraits of country life with reminders of its often crushing poverty, and "Mr. Rich Man" is a dark meditation on economic injustice. Musically he teeters between sparse 12-bar blues boilerplate and equally stripped-down swamp funk--and his idiosyncratic guitar style is actually a version of the familiar country-western "chicken scratch." Though his singing sometimes falters and his rhythms and arrangements are so casual they occasionally lapse into flaccidity, song by song he gets it right more often than not. "Camel Toe" recalls 60s garage-band psychedelia with its hollow synth-flute warbles and spiky, propulsive guitar and organ riffs; the jubilant "White Rock Rooster" and "Super Chikan Strut" showcase his trademark barnyard vocalese and guitar squawks; and the two-part "Mama & the Chillen" seasons a witty fusion of hard-times storytelling and rustic Rabelaisian slapstick with sharp harmonica squalls. At press time Johnson had just released a second album, What You See (Fat Possum), and I'm curious to hear it: he's already focused and inventive with his lyrics, and if he ties together the loose ends in his music--all the enticing elements he picks up for a song or two, then drops--he could evolve from an entertaining novelty into a major figure in contemporary blues. Saturday, 9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452. Johnson will also give a free in-store performance Saturday at 1 PM at Jazz Record Mart, 444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467.

David Whiteis

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