Eddie Cotton | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Eddie Cotton 

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EDDIE COTTON

Eddie Cotton grew up singing gospel and to this day serves as minister of music in his dad's church in Clinton, Mississippi--and though the 30-year-old guitarist cites Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Little Milton as primary influences, he shows his roots on his debut CD, Eddie Cotton Live at the Alamo Theatre (Proteus), cooking up a blend of spirituality and carnality that has more in common with southern soul than northern blues. Playing in church has clearly taught him how to work a crowd: both his ballads and his jubilant, up-tempo rockers start off sparse, often buoyed by a sweet, burbling organ, and build gradually and deliberately, layer by layer, until they erupt into glory. On the Willie Dixon-Muddy Waters warhorse "The Same Thing," Cotton's crisp soul chording and Chalmers Davis's Hammond B-3 weave together in a mix of backwater blues and back-alley funk. On Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign," Cotton adopts King's sweet yet pungent guitar tone and taut melodic lines, but adds a bracing rawness with his aggressive style; on Little Milton's "Walkin' the Backstreets and Cryin'," he bases his solo closely on Milton's original, but makes the song his own by unfurling tight bundles of notes into long, ascending screams seasoned by supple string bends and corkscrews. Cotton's originals are even more promising: "Don't Give Up on a Love Affair" is an aching ballad that showcases his vocal skills, and no matter how flamboyant he gets--jumping around his multioctave range, giving free rein to his melismatic virtuosity--his muscular timbre never slackens. Even the poppy, almost cloying melody of "Why Must I Cry" doesn't take the bluesy edge off Cotton's guitar work--he never sacrifices soul for cheap sentiment. Friday and Saturday, 9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.

DAVID WHITEIS

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