Willie White | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Willie White 

If Chicago is no longer the home of the blues, it's because much of what's played here panders to predominantly white stereotypes about "authenticity"--the north-side clubs and the few blues-oriented studios that are still around stick to the 12-bar, shuffle-driven, guitar-and-harmonica-dominated postwar sound popularized by the likes of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. Much of the heat has now moved to the south, where the blues remains a living voice in black culture and the music freely incorporates elements of soul (both old and neo), R & B, and hip-hop. But that sound flourishes in the few venues on the south and west sides that still feature blues, and vocalist-keyboardist Willie White continues to work that turf. A longtime local sideman, White began performing on his own in the mid-80s, though his only recording is a 2000 CD single, "Taking Me for Granted" (Ztae), and it doesn't do him justice. His vocals are submerged under tepid synths, and the lyrics convey little of the wit he's displayed in the songs he's written for others--like "Love You Don't Know About," a highlight on Artie "Blues Boy" White's 2002 album, Can't Get Enough. But live, Willie White blends Johnnie Taylor's churchiness with a callow vulnerability that recalls R. Kelly; he's funky but with a loose-limbed swing, and though he puts up a macho front his performances are tempered by good-natured flirting and sensitive-guy asides. This is how they do it on the chitlin' circuit, and it's how this town needs to do it more often if "Chicago blues" is going to be anything but an artifact. Sat 5/6, 10 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage, 773-342-0452, $12.

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