Richard "Rip Lee" Pryor | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Richard "Rip Lee" Pryor 

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It'd be easy to write off blues harpist Richard "Rip Lee" Pryor as simply an earnest imitator of his famous father, Snooky Pryor. No less than five of the eleven selections on Pitch a Boogie Woogie, Rip Lee's 1998 debut, are his dad's songs. And his harmonica style, obviously modeled on Snooky's, overflows with warbles, flutters, crisp tongue-stops, and vocal whoops. But on the CD at least, Rip Lee's jubilance transcends revivalism: on Jimmy Reed's "Honest I Do" he faithfully re-creates Reed's splintered screech, but snakes his solo into harmonic nooks and crannies Reed himself seldom explored. His own compositions show even more promise: on the driving shuffle "Thank You Baby" he coaxes everything from wobbly ululations to raw shrieks from his instrument, and "Push a Lot of Lovin',"a roguish sermon on the finer points of two-timing, is a swampy backwoods lope. The disc concludes with Pryor's take on "Sloppy Drunk," a raucous boogie recorded live at a Cairo nightclub; he jumps between tweeter-blowing shouts, bellowed verses, and leather-lung harp wails. At this point, Pryor's more an uncut diamond than a fully realized talent--he only recently quit his job of 19 years, as a carpenter for Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, to focus on the blues. But if the traditional Chicago sound doesn't go the way of the dinosaur, it'll be because artists like him have rescued it from the boneyard. Friday, 9:30 PM, and Saturday, 10 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452. DAVID WHITEIS


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