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Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006 05:49 am

Dad, please pass the torch

Ronnie Baker Brooks, son of Chicago blues great, plays the Alamo

Ronnie Baker Brooks

Ronnie Baker Brooks, son of Chicago blues great Lonnie Brooks, recently released his third CD, aptly titled The Torch. The younger Brooks, a staple in his own right on the Chicago-blues scene, spent years playing in his father’s band before heading out to conquer other worlds. He is quite proud of his musical heritage and takes his legacy seriously.

The Torch, which has been nominated for Best Blues Album at this year’s Chicago Music Awards, contains a song called “The Torch of the Blues” featuring the elder Brooks and three other Chicago-blues legends — Jimmy Johnson, Eddy Clearwater, and the late Willie Kent — in a tribute to the generational aspect of the blues. But Brooks is not about keeping the blues a static museum piece of his father’s time. He respects the music’s roots but is determined to put his own spin on it, as all great players through the years have done.

In an attempt to develop his style while expanding the appeal of the Chicago-blues sound, Brooks has used Jellybean Johnson as co-producer on all three of his CDs. Johnson, a Minneapolis sound pioneer best known for his work with Prince and Janet Jackson, adds a distinctive funk/hip-hop undercurrent to the overall classic blues feel of the recording.

In another nod to the contemporary music world, Brooks hooked up with Memphis rapper Al Kapone, who appeared as a main character in the 2005 film Hustle and Flow. Kapone, otherwise known as A. Bailey, does his thing on the philosophically capitalistically titled cut “If It Don’t Make Dollars, Then It Don’t Make Sense.”

In other songs on the CD, Brooks sings some Memphis soul, plays guitar like a Texas tornado, gets down and funky, and generally takes us on a extensive tour of blues stylings that proves his prowess as a well-schooled all-around musician ready to represent the next generation of blues players.

Perhaps the thoroughly modern production and progressive artistic leanings of the recording will reach some new fans outside of the rather insular blues world. It has been some time since a real blues artist pierced the Top 40 world of rap, rock, hip-hop, and pop. Ronnie Baker Brooks just might be the one to take the torch of the blues and illuminate the world with it.

Ronnie Baker Brooks presents his highly entertaining live show (that cordless guitar is a showstopper) at the Alamo (115 N. Fifth St., 217-523-1455), 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 7. Yes, the enclosed and heated smoking and drinking garden is open.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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