The spirit of Stax Records, general Memphis soul, classic blues and the surrounding scenes potently swirled around the Belushi Performance Hall at the state-of-the-art McAninch Arts Center when the “Take Me To The River” revue rolled onto the College Of DuPage campus. For two hours and change, many singers and musicians who’d been there from the get go, along with several from the next generation who appeared in the movie of the same name, tore through the region’s rich history with ongoing relevance.
Grammy recipient William Bell was cool and confident as he dusted off “Easy Comin’ Out (Hard Goin’ In),” “Tryin’ To Love Two” and “I Forget To Be Your Lover” before the entire cast came back for Green’s “Take Me To The River,” which sent the audience straight to its feet in approval of the unforgettable overview.
The program began with Willie Mitchell’s wordless “20-75,” allowing all the exceptional players (including his son/producer/host Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell) a chance to loosen up and transport themselves to the south. Vocalists Sharisse Norman and Ashton Riker soon jumped in to add their smooth, respective interpretations of Al Green’s “Tired Of Being Alone” and “Let’s Stay Together,” while the latter’s extended set also featured Otis Redding’s immortal “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” turned up a notch with some rhymes from Academy Award-winner Frayser Boy.
The rapper returned with hip-hop star Al Kapone (of “Hustle & Flow” fame) for “New Jewelry,” giving fans a taste of today without ever loosing site of the evening’s roots. And speaking of the other Al Capone, Mitchell told the hysterical story of follow-up performer Bobby Rush being the only artist on Chess Records to own his masters, probably because of a mistakenly perceived connection to that kingpin mobster!
Nonetheless, the 83-year-old Rush (who said he’s the oldest active black bluesman) more than proved such worth across “Porcupine Meat” (the title of his current Grammy Award-winning album) and a tribute to Rufus Thomas via “Push And Pull.” In addition, the man can play a mean harmonica as well, as evidenced by an extended stomp through “Garbage Man” that worked in bits of “When The Saints Go Marching In.”
Without wasting a minute, Charlie Musselwhite kept that instrument at the core of “If I Should Have Bad Luck,” James Cotton’s “West Helena Blues” and Prince Conley’s “I’m Coming Home.” The 73-year-old’s roots with the theme go all the way back to his mother befriending the head of Satellite Records (prior to being renamed Stax), right up to his Grammy-winning collection, “Get Up!,” with Ben Harper appearing on the updated label.
Despite all that talent, it made the most sense to wrap up the retrospective with William Bell, the first male artist signed to Stax who’s since been covered by Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, Snoop Dogg, Melissa Etheridge and many more. At 78, the fellow Grammy recipient was cool and confident as he dusted off “Easy Comin’ Out (Hard Goin’ In),” “Tryin’ To Love Two” and “I Forget To Be Your Lover” before the entire cast came back for Green’s “Take Me To The River,” which sent the audience straight to its feet in approval of the unforgettable overview.
For additional information on “Take Me To The River,” William Bell, Charlie Musselwhite and Bobby Rush, visit Facebook.com/TMTTRFilm/, WilliamBell.com, CharlieMusselwhite.com and BobbyRushBluesMan.com.
Upcoming performance highlights at the McAninch Arts Center At College Of DuPage include Lidia Bastianich (Nov. 9); Lonestar (Nov. 10); “Broadway’s Next Hit Musical” (Nov. 17); Savion Glover: “All Funkd’ Up” (Nov. 26); Almost Elton John And The Rocket Band: “A Very Elton Christmas” (Dec. 2); The Second City: “Nut-Cracking Holiday Revue” (Dec. 9); “Presley, Perkins, Lewis & Cash: A Million Dollar Christmas” (Dec. 10); Gavin Coyle: “A Celtic Christmas” (Dec. 15); New Philharmonic: “Viennese Classics, Movie Favorites & More!” (Dec. 31); Chris Botti (Jan. 20); “The Best Of The Second City” (Feb. 17) and Cubanismo! featuring Jesus Alemany (Feb. 18). For additional details, visit AtTheMac.org.