Charles Walker & Johnny Jones | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Charles Walker & Johnny Jones 

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CHARLES WALKER & JOHNNY JONES

Vocalist Charles Walker's discography spans more than 40 years, and on his first release--1959's "Slave to Love," on the Champion label--one of the backing musicians is guitarist Johnny Jones. Though Walker has never had a hit, singles from his early stints on blues and R & B imprints like Fury and Chess are prized by collectors. He spent most of the 80s in Europe, where American soul survivors are idolized; then in 1993 he returned to his hometown of Nashville and hooked up again with Jones. The two have yet to release a disc as a duo, but Jones guests on Walker's first stateside full-length, last year's Leavin' This Old Town (Cannonball). Walker is at least 60, but he sings in a high-pitched, adolescent-sounding voice that doesn't always stand up to the blues--on "Homewrecker Legs" ("Lookin' so hot she can melt cold steel / She knows how to move in a pair of high heels") he comes off like a horny teenager, and over the slow grind of "The Monkey Song" his double entendres ("You can have anything you want / If you just shave that monkey clean") sound merely puerile. On more emotionally sophisticated material, though--like "Make It Rain" and the misty blue "The Very Thing That Makes You Rich"--his trembling, boyish vulnerability works with the lyrics, not against them, and he sounds convincingly plaintive and desperate. Like Walker, Jones has a high tenor voice, but his timbre is thicker and more textured. And though his string-bending guitar style is clearly post-King (both B.B. and Albert), his fierce attack and shivering sustains give his playing a rootsy, jukey feel. On his debut under his own name, 1998's I Was Raised on the Blues (Black Magic), he covers an impressive emotional range: on "I Done Did That Already" the arcing structure of his solo reflects the good-natured, optimistic lyrics, but "Groove Thing," despite feel-good lines like "Ain't no need to worry, when you find it you will know," is a lurking, minor-key grinder, with Jones's guitar biting off shards of the melody and gnawing them to shreds. For these shows Jones and Walker will be backed by a four-piece organ combo and take turns as front man. "Nothing a Young Girl Can Do," their vocal duet on Walker's disc, is a good taste of what the sets might sound like: Walker soars in high harmony, and Jones, with his more nuanced croon, plays the voice of experience, telling his callow-sounding partner to choose a dependable older woman over a seductive but dangerous girl. Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12, 9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.

DAVID WHITEIS

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

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