Lucky Peterson

Since he was a five-year-old child prodigy, Lucky Peterson has been one of the blues world's most impressive, if underappreciated, triple-threat talents. The former Florida resident and son of bluesman/ex-nightclub operator James Peterson has proved his mettle with vital releases on Alligator, Verve, and other labels. Along the way, he has contributed inspired work on keyboards, guitar, and vocals to recordings by everyone from bluesmen James Cotton and Joe Louis Walker to jazzers Wynton Marsalis and Abbey Lincoln. So why has Lucky not had the good fortune to make a mainstream breakthrough à la Robert Cray or Keb' Mo'? Blame it on ineffective management and rumored personal demons.

Still the guy knows how to put out a blues record that isn't the same old twelve-bar bore. On Black Midnight Sun, he demonstrates blues-to-the-bone authority and a sound that's edgier than usual. Produced by Bill Laswell and bolstered by Parliament/Funkadelic drummer Jerome "Bigfoot" Brailey's phat backbeats, the disc is dominated by moody, sometimes spooky covers of soul and R&B gems. There is a good and greasy rendition of Syl Johnson's "Is It Because I'm Black"; a sticky funk version of James Brown's "Talkin' Loud and Saying Nothing"; and a cover of Sly Stone's "Thank You for Talkin' to Me Africa" dominated by slow-mo wah-wah guitar. Peterson may be going the borrowed-and-blue route this time out, but he makes these tunes his own: At 38, the onetime rising star sounds as if he's still pushing hard, trying to prove something.