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Singer and harpist Bobby Rush calls what he does “funk folklore”: over greasy, danceable grooves, he tells, sings, or acts out ribald fables with morals like “A man can give it, but he sure can’t take it” and “One monkey don’t stop no show.” A lot of his tricks, both lyrical and musical, were pretty well-worn even before he got his hands on them, but like old jokes told and retold at family reunions, they’re all the more endearing for their familiarity. On his latest CD, Hoochie Man (Waldoxy), several tracks sound like instant soul-blues classics. “I Like It,” about a man’s duty to satisfy his mate, features a characteristic Rush twist–a guy learns what turns his woman on by peeping through the keyhole as she makes love with another man. On the slow-grinding title tune, a popping funk-blues bass line leavens his challenge to his lover (“If you wanna be a hoochie woman, then I can be a hoochie man”) with playful humor. And “Too Short, Too Little,” though practically the same tune as his early-80s hit “Sue,” succeeds thanks to its pointed lyrics about male inadequacy (“She said, ‘Your love is like a wet match / You can’t light no fire with that!'”). From time to time Rush steps outside his usual bawdy, amiable persona; “Shut Up” is a caustic dig at loud-talking ignoramuses, and on the moody ballad “2 Eyes Full of Tears” he sings with convincing pathos, a guitar sobbing sweetly behind him. His live act is still nonstop lip-smacking lechery, full of sly banter, transparent double entendres, and dirty dancing with scantily clad showgirls. But his onstage character and storytelling style have roots in black vaudeville, medicine shows, and even late-19th-century minstrelsy–and in keeping with those traditions, his tricksters and philanderers usually get their comeuppance in the end. Sunday, March 4, 6:30 PM, East of the Ryan, 914 E. 79th; 773-874-1500.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.