Willie D. and Z.Z. Hill Jr. | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Willie D. and Z.Z. Hill Jr. 

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Vocalist Willie D.'s dusky timbre sometimes falters when he's trying too hard to sound like a sex machine, but when he's relaxed he lets loose an amiable blend of traditional and contemporary soul and blues. Either way, though, the real treat is his band. Anchored by Willie Black's no-nonsense bass, the unit features two of Chicago's most exciting young guitarists: Johnnie Sanders and Bert Mell. Sanders practices B.B. King-style string bending with a high-voltage enthusiasm, enriched by his profound musical sense. Mell, who cites influences as diverse as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Wes Montgomery, and Andres Segovia, is capable of gritty blues testifying and stratospheric explosion, but his true forte is the ballad--he caresses and explores a melody with grace and a worldliness far beyond his years. Guest vocalist Z.Z. Hill Jr.--actually no relation to Z.Z. Hill--should dispense with that name; his rich gospel voice speaks for itself. Both Hill and Willie D. rely a bit too heavily on slick covers of well-known hits; if they could find some fresh material (or mine the rich lode of little-known classics just waiting to be rediscovered), they'd stand a good chance of becoming celebrities on the contemporary blues circuit. Friday, 9:30 PM, Rosa's, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452. DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Willie D. photo by Marc PoKempner.

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