Vocalist Charles Walker’s discography spans more than 40 years, and on his first release–1959’s “Slave to Love,” on the Champion label–one of the backing musicians is guitarist Johnny Jones. Though Walker has never had a hit, singles from his early stints on blues and R & B imprints like Fury and Chess are prized by collectors. He spent most of the 80s in Europe, where American soul survivors are idolized; then in 1993 he returned to his hometown of Nashville and hooked up again with Jones. The two have yet to release a disc as a duo, but Jones guests on Walker’s first stateside full-length, last year’s Leavin’ This Old Town (Cannonball). Walker is at least 60, but he sings in a high-pitched, adolescent-sounding voice that doesn’t always stand up to the blues–on “Homewrecker Legs” (“Lookin’ so hot she can melt cold steel / She knows how to move in a pair of high heels”) he comes off like a horny teenager, and over the slow grind of “The Monkey Song” his double entendres (“You can have anything you want / If you just shave that monkey clean”) sound merely puerile. On more emotionally sophisticated material, though–like “Make It Rain” and the misty blue “The Very Thing That Makes You Rich”–his trembling, boyish vulnerability works with the lyrics, not against them, and he sounds convincingly plaintive and desperate. Like Walker, Jones has a high tenor voice, but his timbre is thicker and more textured. And though his string-bending guitar style is clearly post-King (both B.B. and Albert), his fierce attack and shivering sustains give his playing a rootsy, jukey feel. On his debut under his own name, 1998’s I Was Raised on the Blues (Black Magic), he covers an impressive emotional range: on “I Done Did That Already” the arcing structure of his solo reflects the good-natured, optimistic lyrics, but “Groove Thing,” despite feel-good lines like “Ain’t no need to worry, when you find it you will know,” is a lurking, minor-key grinder, with Jones’s guitar biting off shards of the melody and gnawing them to shreds. For these shows Jones and Walker will be backed by a four-piece organ combo and take turns as front man. “Nothing a Young Girl Can Do,” their vocal duet on Walker’s disc, is a good taste of what the sets might sound like: Walker soars in high harmony, and Jones, with his more nuanced croon, plays the voice of experience, telling his callow-sounding partner to choose a dependable older woman over a seductive but dangerous girl. Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12, 9:30 PM, Rosa’s Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.


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