Fricke's Picks: Junior Wells, Looker, River City Tanlines, Butch Hancock

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For more than two decades starting in the late Fifties, whenever Chicago fireball Junior Wells wasn't touring with his blues sidekick, guitarist Buddy Guy, the singer and harp player regularly held night court at Theresa's, a tiny local club where the liquor was cheap and the music got looser with each round. Live at Theresa's 1975 (Delmark) taped for a radio broadcast, is both vintage Wells (who died in 1998) and historical fun: a rare document of electric Chicago, up close and personal. You can count the number of hands clapping, and Wells chats between songs like he's got one elbow on the bar. The performances are not as atomic as Wells' defining studio album, 1965's Hoodoo Man Blues, or his best duo efforts with Guy. What you get instead is a great working blues legend mixing his hits ("Little by Little," "Messin' With the Kid") with blues standards on a typical good-time night in the neighborhood. Buddy's underrated brother Phil is solid and stabbing on guitar, while Wells, on harp, blows his own big hole through Little Walter's "Juke."

New year, new rock: Looker are a New York quartet with three singing women -- founding guitarists Boshra AlSaadi and Nicole Greco and bassist Rachel Smith -- who kick and coo on their debut album, Born Too Late (Looker), with one collective stiletto heel in the Brill Building circa 1963 and the other in what used to be CBGB. The band, which includes drummer boy Robbie Overbey, doesn't hide its debts to Blondie, the Runaways and the Shangri-Las. Instead, Looker write rolling la-la thunder like "Hey Kids" and "Gregory" that repays the lessons with interest. River City Tanlines, a Memphis trio fronted by Alicja A. Trout on guitar and hellcat vox, have a long local pedigree, and their second album, I'm Your Negative (Dirtnap), came out last fall. But the Tanlines' crunch and punk-party chorales are new enough to me to qualify, with Looker, as my first favorite racket of 2007.

The midterm elections are over. The Iraq War is not, which means Texas singer-songwriter Butch Hancock's War and Peace (Two Roads), released during the campaign season, has lost none of its urgency. Unlike Neil Young's jeremiad Living With War, Hancock's record is more measured rage, his West Texas-Dylan voice nestled in a velvet sagebrush of dusty strum and country gleam. And the fight in Hancock's writing is closer to the late Phil Ochs' faith in democracy and dissent. "Cast the Devils Out" restores proper meaning to "stay the course," and Hancock ends with a reminder, "That Great Election Day," that no one leads this country without our say-so.

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