When Al Harris made an unscheduled guest appearance with the Sons of Blues at last year’s Chicago Blues Festival, an international audience learned what habitues of Maxwell Street, the now-defunct Delta Fish Market at Jackson and Kedzie, and neighborhood joints like Mr. Tee’s have known for years: that he’s a charismatic, soulful singer and showman who can warm up a stage or bring down the house, and whose range encompasses everything from 12-bar Chicago blues to deep soul to contemporary R & B. Harris, who got his start playing drums (and sometimes bass) behind the late David Lindsey, sings in a gospel-influenced style reminiscent of Sam Cooke, with a satiny elegance that takes absolutely nothing away from the visceral punch of his passions; I’ve seen him stun a rowdy audience of wine-soaked street people into reverent silence with his soaring version of Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” And his craftsmanship is just as impressive as his emotional power: he purrs Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” with supple ease, and though his timbre is deeper than Green’s, he negotiates the song’s quirky melody with muscular sureness, wringing out every nuance and making explicit the sensual heat that Green’s breathy delivery teasingly hinted at. On more aggressive fare, such as Albert King’s “I’ll Play the Blues for You” and Tyrone Davis’s soulful “Turning Point,” his croon toughens into a leathery shout and he sings with the rhythmic confidence of a man who’s spent years behind a trap kit: instead of just riding the groove, he helps create it, placing accents, articulations, and pauses the way a drummer might. His band for this gig will be led by keyboardist (and club owner) Max Brumbach, who’s accompanied soul immortals like Otis Clay and O.V. Wright, and guitar ace Mark Wydra. Saturday, January 19, 10 PM, California Clipper, 1002 N. California; 773-384-2547.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.