Walter "Wolfman" Washington & the Roadmasters | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Walter "Wolfman" Washington & the Roadmasters

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WALTER "WOLFMAN" WASHINGTON & THE ROADMASTERS

New Orleans guitarist Walter "Wolfman" Washington draws on everything from his hometown tradition of street-parade improvisation to the urbane blues of Bobby "Blue" Bland and hard-driving contemporary funk--but it all sticks together, thanks to his dead-on earnestness and raucous good humor. On last year's Funk Is in the House (Bullseye Blues), his first U.S. release since the early 90s, he tickles Ray Charles's "Mary Ann" to within an inch of her life; his own "Wolf Funk" prowls like a you-know-what; a parade-style chant propels the title tune; and "The Big Easy" celebrates the gritty, back-alley exuberance of N'awlins street culture. The skintight rhythm section of Washington's longtime band, the Roadmasters, allows him to stretch out as a guitarist: he'll toss off a breezy, George Benson-esque flurry, skitter down through the registers, turn around for a graceful, angular climb seasoned with sweetback soul chords, and then dive low again to start over. The tautness of his voice makes it sound almost like another percussion instrument on up-tempo numbers, and though this can hold him back on ballads, he comes through with a brassy, flamboyant arrangement of Teddy Pendergrass's seductive "Close the Door" that catapults it from the boudoir to the show lounge. Whatever Washington plays the swinging Crescent City tradition animates every note--and its jubilant optimism will soothe your soul, even as it lights a fire under your feet. Willie Kent & the Gents, worthy headliners themselves, open Friday's show. Friday, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. Saturday, 10 PM, Beale Street Blues Cafe, 1550 N. Rand, Palatine; 847-776-9850. DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Rick Olivier.

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