"Life ain't hard. It's just living what's hell," said Otis Williams at the "Blues Breakdown" at the Roxy last night. The sorrow and joy expressed in the poems Williams read early in the evening later resounded in the music performed by street singer Flora Molton and several area blues musicians.

Molton's gospel songs were heartfelt and moving, punctuated by her jangly slide-guitar playing and the more refined embellishments provided by guitarist Eleanor Ellis.

John Jackson and his son James then focused on finger-style blues and ragtime guitar. Typically, John created sharply delineated bass and melody lines that rang out over James' steady rhythms. Not to be outdone, though, James threw in some fancy licks of his own, including some rock-style finger tapping on a ragtime tune.

Ellis' solo set was delightfully eclectic, encompassing songs by Memphis Minnie and Chuck Berry, among others. Ellis is not only a fine guitarist with an obvious flair for rearranging songs, she has an expressive voice that occasionally reminds one of Rory Block and Bonnie Raitt.

The highlight of Archie Edwards' set was his warmhearted tribute to Mississippi John Hurt. Although he plays a guitar better suited to slide style, Edwards captured the buoyant finger-picking quality that was Hurt's trademark.

The arrival of Bowling Green John Cephas and Harmonica Phil Wiggins sounded a decidedly upbeat note. Cephas' infectious rhythms, supple melodies and brooding slide-guitar work combined with Wiggins' impassioned harmonica solos to make some of the evening's most memorable music. -- Mike Joyce