Johnny Adams | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Johnny Adams 

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JOHNNY ADAMS

In the last decade Johnny Adams--now 65 and still perhaps the greatest male vocalist ever to come out of New Orleans--has rebuilt his career with a series of concept albums on which he's gradually moved away from silky Crescent City soul and toward urbane jazz balladry. While two late-80s collections devoted to great R & B songwriters Percy Mayfield and Doc Pomus exhibited a rare buoyancy, his most recent recordings have found him diving into gently swinging standards. But though Adams's voice is gorgeously smooth and full-bodied, and he's got great reserves of style, he's simply not a jazz singer, and his interpretations too often drown the material. Thankfully, his latest effort, One Foot in the Blues (Rounder), although still swinging, is the grittiest, most immediate record he's made in six years. Backed by a superb small combo featuring Hammond B-3 ace Lonnie Smith, former Chicago tenor saxist Ed Petersen, and soul-jazz guitarist Jimmy Ponder, Adams can glide through the funky "Won't Pass Me By," the soulful title track (written especially for this record by Dan Penn), and the pretty standard "Angel Eyes" with equal precision and warmth. The spare approach suits Adams far better than the sometimes overripe big-band arrangements that hampered his more recent work. For this gig he'll be backed by the stylistically versatile Dave Specter & the Bluebirds--and if you think the one-dimensional prefab shtick of the Mighty Blue Kings has any merit, this pairing will show just what kind of hokum those knobs are truly perpetuating. Saturday, 10 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Rick Olivier.

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