The blues played by slide guitarist J. B. Hutto come in two shades: the raw, emotional blues pioneered by Mississippi's Muddy Waters and Elmore James and the joyous boogie/shuffle beat of Chicago's night life. At the Wax Museum on Saturday night, dozens of people crowded around the circular stage to hear the 56-year-old guitarist play both.
Waters and James have inspired countless guitarists, but Hutto is no mere imitator. Using a metal fingerpick, tubular slide and an uncommon degree of restraint, he turned old shuffles like "Hip Shakin' " into irresistible dance numbers and a couple of dark ballads into emotionally cathartic statements. His playing, alternating between sharply defined single-note runs and the crying exclamations of the slide running the length of the fretboard, was charged with excitement. Before he was through, Hutto climbed down from the elevated stage in mid-solo and gave a phalanx of fans a firsthand look at one of Chicago's great bluesmen.
Although Hutto has performed in Washington before, this marked the local debut of his latest trio, the New Hawks. Drummer Leroy Pina and bassist Kenny Krumbholz maintained a steady, often funky backbeat. Guitarist Brian Bisesi, however, stood out.