Bobby "Slim" James | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Bobby "Slim" James 

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Soul and blues fans know Bobby "Slim" James best for "I Really Love You," recorded for the Karol label in 1968 and then covered by Jimmy Burns--both versions are collector's items. Since then James has worked steadily, mostly on the south and west sides of Chicago, but he didn't record again until 2000's Beyond the Blues (Annie G) and hasn't recorded since. On that record James sings like a true house-wrecker, especially on ballads like "Keeper of My Flame" and "Low Down," where his breathy vibrato, constricted gargles, and falsetto moans suggest both vulnerability and desire. When he goes up-tempo, his voice takes on a blustery hardness, and he has a tendency to assault a melody rather than negotiate his way through it (as on his rushed-sounding reprise of "I Really Love You"). Sometimes, though, this pugnacity works to his advantage: on the juke-joint anthem "Chicago Blues" he sounds determined to rock the house, come what may; he applies a similar resolve to the task of keeping his wayward girlfriend in thrall on the R & B dance-floor workout "If I Can't Stop You." Though James's guitar work takes a backseat to his vocals on most of the disc, live he stretches out, combining fat soul chording with nimble string bends, tonal manipulations, and quick-fingered flurries. He's most entertaining, though, when he puts down his guitar and strolls into the audience: he croons to the women, signifies playfully to the men, and punctuates his singing with ribald spoken asides. It's a kind of showmanship that's too rare in neighborhood clubs these days. Saturday, January 24, 9 PM, Bossman Blues Center, 3500 W. Lake; 773-722-8744.

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

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