Some of the most expressive blues musicians were hardly what you would call virtuosos on their chosen instruments. Men like Jerry Reed and John Lee Hooker, for example, fashioned folk art from the most rudimentary patterns. Yet many of their disciples -- contemporary blues bands -- treat their music as if speed and dexterity were the name of the game. b

Not so with the Wild Cards, the five-piece band that performed last night at Easy Street. The Cards' music is marked by unaffected vocals, a solid rhythm section and a welcome degree of restraint.

The band does have a few capable soloists, particularly Bruce Ewan on harmonica nad guitarists Steve Kraemer and Mark Korpi. Each of them got a chance to stretch out on a couple of Chicago shuffles early in the show. Ewan's cross-harp romp on Little Walter's "Juke" was particularly impressive. But more often the members acted as a cohesive unit, pumping out familiar blues like "Sweet Little Angel" and "Natural Ball" in a refreshingly straightforward manner.

The band's biggest drawback seems to be its narrow focus. Apart from "Frankie and Johnnie," a tune that recalled Slim Harpo's laconic Louisiana style, virtually everything the band performed during its opening set was in a Chicago vein. It would be nice to hear them move into southern R&B territory more often.