Music » Livewire

Nora Jean Bruso

Saturday, April 23, at Wilbert's.

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Give a quick listen to Nora Jean Bruso, and comparisons to Koko Taylor and Etta James make instant sense. Taylor's tectonic force and the sass and bite of James are both evident in Bruso's delivery, along with the built-in advantage of relative youth. The fortysomething Bruso's brash and brawny belting evokes a Koko from the early '60s, brandishing the sort of power that could hold its own next to the numerous big-name bluesmen regularly working Chicago's West and South Side bars in those days.

Bruso's own Chicago-blues pedigree also well matches the backgrounds of the masters. Mississippi-born and -bred, and steeped in both church and juke-joint music, Bruso hit Big Windy in 1976 and scored her first marquee gig in 1984, fronting the band of guitar-legend Jimmy Dawkins. She appeared on two of Dawkins' discs before family issues took center stage. Bruso's relaunch came with a lights-out set at the 2002 Chicago Blues Festival. Since then, there have been numerous club and festival slots and a W.C. Handy nomination. Her third solo disc, Going Back to Mississippi, displays Bruso's ability to encase her high-octane vocals in varied, sometimes unexpected surroundings in an all-original set. And fear not: The lady's main stock in trade is balls-out blues.

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