Sandra Hall spent over two decades scuffling on the southern blues and R & B circuit–until, in the late 80s, she landed a few gigs at Blind Willie’s in Atlanta, an international mecca for blues fans. She parlayed that exposure into a series of festival bookings and European tours, and in 1995 she finally recorded her first CD, Showin’ Off (Ichiban). The album complements Hall’s sandpapery vocals with sweet, full-bodied gospel-soul arrangements; the material ranges from “Why Does It Feel So Right,” a Denise LaSalle ballad about a doomed affair, to Otis Redding’s steamy “I Got the Will,” invigorated by chunky 60s-style soul backing. Hall’s 1997 follow-up, One Drop Will Do You, focuses on straightforward blues–a risky choice, since her limited timbral range makes it hard for her to keep an entire set of 12-bar shuffles and blues ballads interesting. But the CD’s best spots burn with a commitment that makes you forget its duller moments: Hall rips into B.B. King’s “Ask Me No Questions” like a wrecking ball, propelled by a rollicking Crescent City rhythm, and her odes to desire and fulfillment–the title tune and “Big Long Slidin’ Thing”–capture the heat and humor of her live performances. (She used to be a go-go dancer, and she’s been known to invite men onstage for a hands-on demonstration of how to “handle a whopper.”) Hall has raised eyebrows by appropriating Bessie Smith’s honorific, “Empress of the Blues,” but with the right material and a bit more time, she may yet prove a worthy heir to that crown. Friday and Saturday, 9:30 PM, Kingston Mines, 2548 N. Halsted; 773-477-4646. DAVID WHITEIS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Ruth Leitman.