For years Bobby Rush, whose blues career started in Chicago in the early 50s, has expressed a desire to cross over from the southern soul/blues circuit into the lucrative white market. But he’s also adamantly refused to compromise what he sees as his black aesthetic: he’s sworn never to play “Sweet Home Chicago,” and he’s never tempered the funk–musical or otherwise–of his racy stage show. This year, with his major part in The Road to Memphis, Richard Pearce’s entry in the seven-part Martin Scorsese PBS series “The Blues,” and a live DVD filmed at actor Morgan Freeman’s upscale blues bistro in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Rush is closer than he’s ever been to his goal. In this context, Undercover Lover (Deep Rush), his first self-released CD after years on Malaco/Waldoxy, is a challenge to blues purists and anyone else who says he’ll have to tailor his act to get there. The set is as varied as anything he’s done, ranging from 12-bar hip grinders to synth-washed dance floor workouts to a rare straight-ahead ballad (“Love Is a Gamble”), and Rush’s lyrics are as rakish as ever. He creates his material by laying borrowed lines alongside his own and transplanting folksy tropes–“That’s a tough titty, y’all,” he sings of being two-timed, “and can’t nothin’ suck it but a lion”–into modern musical settings. On “Play With Your Poodle” the double entendre of the title comes from the Tampa Red song, but it’s surrounded here by contemporary “dogg” vernacular; the funky “That Thang” takes Willie Dixon’s “The Same Thing” as its starting point, but Rush loads it with so many reconfigured ideas (some appropriated from other Dixon lyrics, some brand-new) that the song ends up an original creation. Whether or not the disc catapults Rush into mainstream blues stardom, it stands on its own as one of the year’s most important blues releases. With Nellie Travis: Friday, December 5, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy’s Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. Saturday, December 6, 10 PM, Chord on Blues, 106 S. First, Saint Charles; 630-513-0074.

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