Alberta Adams | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Alberta Adams 

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In the 40s and early 50s blues singer Alberta Adams was a regular headliner on Detroit's Hastings Street strip, and she kept some big-name company on the road: Duke Ellington and Louis Jordan both hired her as a featured performer. But though she worked with top-flight musicians and recorded sides for prestigious labels like Chess and Savoy, her career never really took off. It's hard to figure out why--her phrasing had a swinging propulsiveness, she could easily shift from a plaintive murmur to a sanctified wail, and her uncanny knack for sounding both worldly-wise and naive seemed to make her a perfect fit for a pop market that was moving from adult-oriented swing and jump blues to adolescent rock 'n' roll. But though she never became a star, she's kept performing into her 80s; her latest release, Detroit's Queen of the Blues (Eastlawn), is a four-track EP that includes two new tracks and a pair of tunes she recorded for the Thelma label in the early 60s. Including the older songs doesn't do the new stuff any favors: her timbre has stiffened with age, and her once flawless intonation sometimes wavers. But she's savvy enough to transform those drawbacks into strengths: her rasp adds a bit of menace to the good-natured signifying on "Hello Little Boy," and her quavers and shaky enunciation on "Chains of Love" fit the song's mood of exhaustion. Sat 4/29, 10 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage, 773-342-0452, $15.

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