Vocalist Vernis Rucker is the latest protege of Quinton Claunch, the fabled Memphis Svengali whose Goldwax label launched the R & B careers of O.V. Wright and James Carr in the 60s. Her debut CD, Stranger in the Sheets, showcases a voice that can segue effortlessly from sexy intimacy through lady-in-the-streets assertiveness all the way to an ecstatic gospel crescendo; she's already learned how to convey strong emotions by undersinging. Whether purring the blues in a sweet, kittenish soprano ("Fishin' for a Man") or gleefully exacting retribution on a recalcitrant lover ("Dead to Right"), Rucker sounds both sensual and refreshingly assertive. Her version of Little Willie John's "Fever" is more of a demand than a caress ("Give me fever!"); even on the most lovelorn ballads she refuses to descend into self-pity, preferring instead a hard-earned tenderness that acknowledges the vicissitudes of romance while reasserting her determination to prevail. Claunch has said he thinks Rucker could go on to be the next Whitney Houston; meanwhile she's one of the more promising young talents to grace the contemporary soul and blues world in some time. Friday and Saturday, 9:30 PM, Rosa's, 3420 W. Armitage; 342-0452.