Out There

Sweet progress

Candy Lickin' Man
Chico Banks
Evidence Records

You'd think Chicago's blues labels--Alligator, Delmark, and Earwig--would have ears closer to their own streets than an outfit in Conshoshocken, Pennsylvania. But that's the home base of Evidence Records, which has recently released CDs by three Windy City guitarists so arousing they may well constitute a movement that will cause other labels to soon play catch-up.

Carol Weathersby, Melvin Taylor, and Chico Banks are all intensely electric guitarists who make much use of effects. Banks is the sonic extremist of the lot, and though blues pundits will say his roiling, acidic playing on Candy Lickin' Man is in a Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan vein, it's just as readily comparable to vintage Funkadelic. His singing voice is quite high (like Otis Rush or Buddy Guy but sans their showboating) and enables him to take on quite a breadth of material. Blues traditionalists may slag him for pushing the envelope on guitar, but this CD's 14 cuts offer variety that'll certainly keep them from calling him one-dimensional.

"It Must Be Love" mixes psychedelic funk with Southern soul. The excellent "Careless Things We Do" (one of five horn cuts) is similarly soulful, replete with chirpy, female back-up that labels like Ichiban specialize in, but minus the slick production. Banks penned both tunes.

The Magic Sam warhorse "All Your Love" features a guest vocal by bear-voiced Big Jim Montgomery, who contributes a lowing trombone solo before Banks kicks in with a sizzler of his own. Banks is back at the mike for three Albert King covers, the hottest being "Down the Road I Go," taken at fierce pace with some wickedly fuzzed guitar on this selection. Banks' infectious rhythms push along his clever lyrics, which request divine assistance with credit unions, the flu, his shop foreman, and other stress-bringers. Crisp drumming, plaintive singing, and a screamin' guitar solo help make this cut a standout. The title track hangs on a riff that'll remind many of "Sweet Home Alabama" (rather to its detriment).

Before it got into the blues biz, Evidence was a jazz label, and of late has fielded some uncommonly well-produced blues CDs. All the better for Banks. Low-bid production might've misrepresented him as just another narrow-niche guitarslinger, irking the scads of blues fans who think effects were OK for Hendrix and Vaughan but no one else.

As Banks' bandleader debut, this CD is too classy and well wrought not to qualify as a harbinger of what blues will likely sound like in the upcoming millennium.

--Tim Schuller


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