Boo Boo Davis | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Boo Boo Davis 

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Born in Mississippi in 1943, James "Boo Boo" Davis started drumming at age seven, playing in the Lard Can Band--a family act, named after his makeshift instrument, that toured the state and even backed a young B.B. King. Davis later moved to Saint Louis, and in 1972 formed the Davis Brothers with his siblings John and S.L. on guitar and bass; for 18 years they held down a weekend gig at Tubby's Red Room, one of East Saint Louis's most fabled jukes. In 1999 Davis appeared on harpist Arthur Williams's Harpin' on It (Fedora), drumming and contributing guest vocals; the following year he released the first CD under his own name, East St Louis (Black & Tan), which showcased his grainy, Howlin' Wolf-style singing over raucous, if occasionally unfocused, juke-joint accompaniment. The new Can Man begins with that rowdy sound and distills it to its brutally potent essence--recorded live in the studio with a minimum of overdubs, it replicates the feel of a roadhouse gig with almost frightening intensity. The band members interact so intuitively you'd swear they were sharing a brain; Davis growls, implores, and roars his way through ten originals that still show Wolf's influence but never descend into imitation. Since his debut Davis has stepped out from behind the kit, reinventing himself as a stand-up vocalist, and his singing is powerful but nuanced, with a muscular vibrato that adds a hint of tenderness to even his most aggressive declamations. On the title tune, patterned after Wolf's "Smokestack Lightnin'," his frenzied delivery veers from a leather-lunged bellow to a constricted rasp, as though he were lost in the throes of a profane and glorious passion; on "Keep On Lovin' Me Baby," a droning, hypnotic one-chord boogie that echoes John Lee Hooker, he cuts up his urgent-sounding vocals with sparse harp shrieks. And "Headache," a slow, crunching 12-bar groove that drips with lascivious funk, sounds like the kind of tune that'd get even the most staid wallflower out on the dance floor doing the dirty dog. Friday, August 30, 9:30 PM, and Saturday, August 31, 10 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.

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