Lonnie Shields hails from the blues stronghold of West Helena, Arkansas, but until the late 70s, when he allied himself with sometime Sonny Boy Williamson sideman Sam Carr, he considered himself more of a funk musician. Even nowadays Shields’s style is a custom blend of modern funk, soul, and R & B, as well as more traditional 12-bar blues. His guitar work is sensual and extraordinarily flexible–he bends strings like B.B. King one minute and fires off chunky chords the next–and while his voice won’t cost Otis Clay any sleep, it’s supple enough to wrap around a soul ballad, bark out imprecations over a boogity-shoe dance floor workout, and then deliver an aggressive blues testimonial. Shields’s recorded output has yet to capture him at the top of his game: Portrait, his rough but exuberant 1992 debut on Rooster Blues, showed a lot of potential, but 1996’s Tired of Waiting (JSP) was so laid-back it was asleep. Last year’s Blues Is on Fire was better, but the stretches of aimlessness between inspired moments were still too long. Shields’s phrasing can be rough, his down-home accent takes some getting used to, and he has yet to concentrate his energies into the kind of high-voltage house-wrecking intensity necessary to succeed on the contemporary soul-blues circuit. Nonetheless it’s encouraging to see a relatively young bluesman meld styles so adroitly–Shields displays a deep feeling for the music’s roots even as he proclaims his determination to branch out. Thursday, April 16, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy’s Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Bob Cooper.