Wolf Records Festival

This lineup of blues artists who have new or recent CDs on the Austrian Wolf label is notable both for the quality of the principals and the stylistic breadth they represent. Billy Branch and John Primer cut their teeth alongside forward-looking traditionalists Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Sammy Lawhorn, and Magic Slim, and they’ve carried on in that vein. Branch, the sole harpist on this mostly guitar-oriented bill, intersperses rootsy blowing with fiery excursions into funk, rock, and beyond. Primer consistently unearths obscure gems both vintage and recent to bring added depth to his driving. Vance Kelly purveys an aggressive meld of Chicago roots (with up-to-the-minute lyrical themes) and soul-blues funk; Johnny Laws is a sensuous vocalist whose occasional tendency to lose direction and riff repetitious is more than offset by the gritty-sweet sensitivity he brings to ballads and rockers alike; and guitarist L.V. Banks pulls together influences from blues, rockabilly, soul, and pop to craft sets that can ascend without warning from human-jukebox novelty to incendiary juke-joint abandon. It may not be the second coming of Chess Records, but this label’s roster demonstrates that despite the toll taken by time and cultural homogenization there’s still plenty of life left in Chicago blues. Thursday, November 21, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy’s Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333 or 312-427-1190.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Vance Kelly photo by James Fraher.