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Melvia “Chick” Rodgers-Williams brings her big voice to the 15th annual Chi-town Blues Festival

Melvia “Chick” Rodgers-Williams is a dynamic, versatile blues and soul vocalist with a pretty sparse recorded legacy (mostly under her maiden name, Melvia “Chick” Rodgers). She’s deft and audacious enough to take on warhorses such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Aretha Franklin’s “Dr. Feelgood,” retaining the power and feel of the originals while making […]

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Sidemen supergroup Source One Band channel the excitement of old-school soul and blues revues

We don’t often think of sidemen as comprising a “supergroup,” but there’s really no other way to describe Chicago’s Source One Band. Between them, bassist and bandleader Joe Pratt, lead guitarist Sir Walter Scott, keyboardist Stan Banks, and drummer Lewis “Big Lou” Powell have performed or recorded with a list of greats that starts with […]

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Rhiannon Giddens honors the African and Arabic influences in American roots music on There Is No Other

Classically trained vocalist and masterful banjo and fiddle player Rhiannon Giddens is celebrated as one of the leading proponents of what’s variously called Americana or roots music. Though her aesthetic has wide appeal, she toughens it with her uncompromising determination to bear witness to the ongoing (and too often neglected) Africanist voice and history in […]

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Chicago’s Countess Williams summons the theatrical panache of classic blueswomen

Blues singer Jean Williams, known as the Countess, delivers her music with a theatrical panache that recalls the classic blueswomen of Bessie Smith’s era; skilled thespians as well as gifted vocalists, they often transformed their songs into melodramas that they carefully acted out onstage. Born in Chicago in 1966, Williams cultivated her musical tastes by […]

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Harpist Billy Branch draws from blues history to invigorate his sound

Blues tributes are too often dire affairs—note-for-note reworkings of timeworn ideas and riffs that betray an almost puritanical obsession with “authenticity.” That approach, of course, dishonors the spirit of the music it purports to celebrate—Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Elmore James, all of whom attract frequent tributes, weren’t purists or revivalists but instead radically reimagined […]