Lee Morris | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Lee Morris 

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It's been a while since we've heard from Lee Morris, the Mississippi-born, Chicago-honed vocalist who cooked up a remarkable fusion of R & B and hip-hop with soul and blues on Morris Code 337 in 1995 and Whip It on U in 2000 (both on the local Da-Man label). Morris spans generations and genres: in performance, his spins and twists recall the sensual athleticism that characterized the stagecraft of the soul era, but his vocal approach--blunt and aggressive, mostly unleavened by deep soul's combination of worldly passion and spiritual uplift--is as unrepentantly modern as the synth-heavy backings he favors on his recordings. Lyrically, he's resolutely up-to-date as well: on the title track of Morris Code 337 a cell phone, rather than a Cadillac or a flashy suit, serves as the player's mark of material status. Morris brings an ambivalent, sometimes ominous combination of machismo and desperation to themes of romance and betrayal: "Crazy," with its lush melody and sparse, old-school pop-soul arrangement, is a thinly veiled threat from a man obsessed ("When you're gone, I'm worried out of my mind.../ I don't want no one around you / I get beside myself, but woman, I don't mean to.../ I go crazy over you"). But on "Ain't Gettin' No Easier," the singer sheds his full metal jacket to stare heartbreak in the face ("I'm alone, I'm alone / It ain't gettin' no easier") with a courage that's vastly more heroic (not to mention attractive) than any cocksure strut. This Sunday night's show, a memorial for harmonica player Jim Brown, will also feature appearances by guitarist Johnny Dollar, harpists Omar Coleman and Harmonica Khan, and percussionist Arnell "Thunderfoot" Powell, among others. Saturday, April 19, 10 PM, and Sunday, April 20, 7 PM, Bossman Blues Center, 3500 W. Lake; 773-722-8744.

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