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When Teena Marie was in her prime there were few other white performers in R & B and none quite as distinctive. She was an independent artist, writing, producing, arranging, and performing her own material in a genre where the hit-factory mentality looms large to this day. Marie signed to Motown in the mid-70s, but didn't record until 1979, when she began a working (and, briefly, personal) relationship with the label's biggest star at the time, Rick James, who produced Wild and Peaceful. Throughout three more albums with Motown and five with Epic, Marie's flamboyant persona ("I'm the diva with two purposes--him and him," she boasts on the 1990 single "The Sugar Shack") and often florid vocal stylings (she's as responsible as anyone for the proliferation of oversung ballads on the radio today) struck a chord with the R & B audience. But Marie only crossed over to pop radio a couple times, most notably in 1984 with "Lovergirl." Recently, Motown Chronicles reissued 1981's It Must Be Magic, generally considered her best album. The deeply funky title track and the early rap takeoff "Square Biz" still get bodies moving when some DJ digs them out, while "The Ballad of Cradle Rob and Me" is Marie at her most likably loopy. Even the slow jam "Portuguese Love" is free of the histrionics that mar her later work. Aside from 1994's Passion Play, which she put out herself, Marie's been mum for the past decade, but she has a new album forthcoming on New Orleans gangsta-rap stronghold Cash Money Records, of all labels, and she'll likely preview some of that material here. Thursday and Friday, January 16 and 17, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000.

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