Barkin' Bill Smith | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Barkin' Bill Smith 

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Legend has it blues vocalist Barkin' Bill Smith got his nickname from veteran guitarist Homesick James. Homesick, if you didn't know, is one of the blues' great ironists, and Smith--who doesn't bark at all, but rather croons in a mellifluous baritone reminiscent of jazz balladeers like Johnny Hartman and Billy Eckstine--has an intriguing musical identity that can't be summed up in a single nickname. His onstage persona combines street-tough irascibility with hipster urbanity; although in recent years he's worked occasionally with jump-blues aggregations, which are more appropriate to his style, most of his Chicago career has been spent fronting rougher blues bands in various west-side jukes or sitting in at venues like the Delta Fish Market, at Jackson and Kedzie. In 1991 he appeared on guitarist Dave Specter's acclaimed Bluebird Blues, on Delmark; in 1994 he returned to the label as a leader and cut Gotcha! The recording revealed his vocal cords to be slightly the worse for wear, but he swung as easily as ever, whether he was romping through a jump 'n' jive party tune or growling over a three-chord back-alley blues progression. Although slowed by health problems (this gig fronting Big Bill Hickey & the Moneymakers will be one of his first north-side appearances in several years), Smith still projects a suave and somewhat tawdry elegance, like an aging roue: you're fully aware that his pose is equal parts pathos and flimflam, but you're charmed anyway. Sunday, 9 PM, B.L.U.E.S., 2519 N. Halsted; 773-528-1012. DAVID WHITEIS

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

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