Hastings Street Blues Band | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Hastings Street Blues Band 

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HASTINGS STREET BLUES BAND

On its 1998 debut, Down on Hastings Street (Serious Sounds), this Detroit-based group dresses its tunes to the nines, with a playful, stylish theatricality: Johnny Roberts's organ burbles beneath Paul Washington's graceful guitar patterns, which recall T-Bone Walker and B.B. King, and bassist Christopher Kent and drummer-bandleader Bobby White alternate easy-rolling shuffles with percolating blues funk. The combo has two front women, professionally known as Cookie DeLite and Cubie, and though Cookie mars the title tune (her only lead vocal) with a flat, unimaginative croon, Cubie's sure, leathery voice recalls great Detroit singers like Alberta Adams and Sippie Wallace. She can also bring out the back-alley side of her sidemen: on steamier numbers like "Detroit Man," "Want Some," and "Finger Do the Walking" (a graphic reminder of how polite Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop" really was), Washington sharpens his guitar tone and switches to jagged, aggressive melodic lines. The wry "Pawn Shop Blues" features Washington's own nuanced soul-blues vocals and an organ solo shuddering with vibrato; Roberts sings on a couple tracks too, his grainy voice bringing a cool resignation to "Hey Little Girl," a sauntering funk tune reminiscent of the famous Albert King cover of Detroit Junior's "Call My Job." But the CD's best argument for seeing this band live is the rowdy vaudeville of "Johnny's Moody Moods": Roberts and Cubie start off with a convincing rendition of a venomously squabbling couple, but at the end of the song, after Roberts's loudmouthed character produces his paycheck, they all but melt into each other's arms. Friday and Saturday, 9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452. The band also plays a free show on Saturday at 2:30 PM at Jazz Record Mart, 444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467. DAVID WHITEIS

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