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CD Review
Chico Banks
"Candy Lickin' Man"
Evidence 26090-2, 14 tracks, 68 minutes
by Ann Wickstrom annw@osas.com
Vernon "Chico" Banks grew up on Chicago's west side, getting his start in the blues as a teenager when he replaced Melvin Taylor in Johnny Christian's band. He toured Europe with James Cotton in his early 20's. He has also played with Otis Clay, Buddy Guy, Jr. Wells, Little Milton, and Artie "Blues Boy" White. More recently, Banks has served as a backing guitarist for Mavis and Pop Staples and was nominated for a 1998 Handy Award for Best New Blues Artist of the Year.

This debut release from Banks brings mixed feelings. The guitar playing is smooth and slippery, high-powered and hot; Banks is a killer axe man. But the lyrics on the five originals are contrived and, for the most part, silly-especially on "Careless Things We Do." In the case of the title track, Banks goes too far and is downright offensive to any woman with a pulse. 'Nuf said.

Likewise, the less said about Chico's vocals the better. I suspect he fancies himself a "sexy" singer (he claims he's the "prettiest blues guy in Chicago"), but his voice is a fairly weak falsetto that causes good songs to fall flat. In striking contrast, "Big James" Montgomery handles the vocal duties on Magic Sam's "All Your Love". Banks would do well to enlist someone like Montgomery as a full-time singer and let his strength as a guitar player stand on its own.

Banks pays tribute to the great ones on this CD but makes no apologies for bringing a rock edge to some blues standards. He races through Albert King's "Down the Road I Go" with some VERY inventive licks. There's also a revved-up version of "The Sky is Crying" that would be completely unrecognizable if it weren't for the lyrics, rescuing those listeners who might cringe with an Oh-no-not-another-version-of-that-one feeling upon first glance.

The highlight of Candy Lickin' Man for me is Luther Dixon's "Soul Serenade." It is truly soulful; precise yet creative. Ronnie Hicks shines on the Hammond B-3. Fans of traditional blues guitar styles will find that Banks employs too much whammy, wah-wah, and wind-out, but I think most would have to admit he's someone to watch out for. I am certainly curious to discover what else Chico Banks has in that blues trick bag of his.

This review is copyright 1998 by Ann Wickstrom, all rights reserved.

Mailbox E-mail Ray Stiles at: mnblues@aol.com

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Copyright 1998 by Ray M. Stiles
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