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True blues

I had a conversation with a musician friend of mine recently, who told me in no uncertain terms that he had no use for the blues. I found this hard to believe. The blues is a foundation of pretty much every type of popular music we concern ourselves with as musicians and listeners, and even a few forms of "unpopular music" as well. Alas, says my pal, "I never need to hear another poser plonking his/her way through a 12-bar beer commercial blues again, as long as I live." To which I responded with something that came out like "Umm, er, uggh."

OK, so the blues has been appropriated for so many things that have nothing to do with its original intent that it has become a bit too easy to miss the form's essence these days. Here's a show to remind us just what the blues is, was and always will be about: the transcendent acceptance of life's pain, and the catharsis playing and singing about that pain might bring.

Here are legends, seasoned and new, gathered to testify about the eternal resonance of the IV-I chord resolution, the esoteric wiggliness of the major/minor third dichotomy, and the sheer joy hidden in sadness. Mavis Staples is a gospel legend, one who helped merge the sacred with the secular, in the process birthing what we now call R&B. Charlie Musselwhite is the reigning king of blues harp, Little Walter for our own particular era. The North Mississippi Allstars have wisdom beyond their relatively tender years, and that wisdom came from the blues. Joe Krown is a Hammond B-3 player from New Orleans who played the blues with legend Clarence Gatemouth Brown for more than a decade.

These are a few of the finest blues artists living, and they'll gather in the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets are $15 for students, $30 for the general public, and can be found at the Center for the Arts box office or through Ticketmaster.

-- Jeff Miers

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