Blues harpist Snooky Pryor is living proof that a musician can stand by his muse and still remain vital through the vicissitudes of taste. But at one point it did seem that his intractability would be the end of him: in the 50s, when contemporaries like Little Walter were exploring sophisticated, jazz-tinged elaborations on traditional themes, Pryor stayed true to the primal shuffle rhythms and raw, aggressive tones of his Mississippi roots; a few years later, relegated to relic status and fed up with the fickle music industry, he retired. But now, with rock ‘n’ rollers rediscovering three-chord changes all over again and a new generation of black bluesmen like Keb’ Mo’ and Corey Harris exploring the music’s rural roots, Pryor has stepped squarely back into the blues mainstream. Musically he’s as good as ever, though he does tend to rely too heavily on a medium-tempo shuffle unless prodded by his accompanists. His quavering vibrato harks all the way back to the traditional art of field hollering; his harp playing intersperses harsh squalls with warbles of sweet tenderness. Lyrically he may offend a few folks in the gender-sensitive 90s (“Oh no, baby, I can’t go for that / Ain’t gonna have no funeral, mama–bury you in a paper sack!”), but his ability to extract meaning from everyday imagery should be a lesson to the self-torturing singer-songwriters currently hogging the airwaves. Friday, 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.