Maurice John Vaughn | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Maurice John Vaughn 

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Alligator caused quite a stir on the Chicago blues scene back in 1988 when it put out Maurice John Vaughn's Generic Blues Album, a self-produced disc the guitarist had issued two years before on his own Reecy label. The Alligator release won widespread acclaim, and Vaughn followed it with an appearance later that year on the imprint's New Bluebloods compilation and, in 1993, a second full-length disc, In the Shadow of the City. (Since then he's been cooling his heels as an A and R rep for the Appaloosa label, but rumor has it he's returning to the studio as a front man.) Vaughn was an accomplished saxist before he took up the guitar in the early 70s, and his lines still feel measured out in breaths, with pauses between ideas to keep them clear and distinct. His solos follow a sequential logic, never relying on incoherent bombast to signify emotional intensity: he loads each phrase with a hint of even more excitement to come, and when the climax finally arrives, it often sounds less like a rush of ecstatic abandon than the satisfied contemplation of what he's crafted. This sometimes makes it seem like Vaughn learned his blues at an academy instead of a juke joint, but his lyrics hardly read like ivory-tower musings--on "Suicide Is Not the Way" he sings, "I know it seems like / You're all alone / But there's someone out there / Waiting for you to come home." And on the brooding urban funk of "Blood Red Sky" or the slinky metallic grind of "I Want to Be Your Spy," both from In the Shadow of the City, the anticipation of Vaughn's next well-chosen turn is as spellbinding as the most over-the-top technical display. Saturday, 9 PM, Beale Street Blues Cafe, 1550 N. Rand, Palatine; 847-776-9850. DAVID WHITEIS

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

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