Chicago Blues Reunion

As long as singer Tracy Nelson is in the lineup when the Chicago Blues Reunion goes on the road, one thing seems certain: It won't be a superficially sentimental journey.

Displaying customary power and soul, Nelson delivered the lone emotional wallop when performing with the ensemble of blues-rock veterans at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis on Saturday night. It's a shame her formidable roar wasn't showcased more often, but there was an awful lot of traffic onstage.

Seated with a Stratocaster in his lap, singer Nick Gravenites, who co-founded the seminal blues-rock band Electric Flag, described how he and his tour mates found their own career paths while haunting Chicago blues clubs in the '60s, listening to the likes of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. Unlike Nelson's voice, Gravenites' pipes are worse for the wear these days. Yet he nonetheless sparked spirited renditions of old flag-wavers such as Wolf's "Killin' Floor" and ably resurrected "Buried Alive in the Blues," which he composed for Janis Joplin. She died, Gravenites explained, the night before the recording session.

Drummer Sam Lay, who played with numerous Chicago blues greats, apparently left his sticks in the dressing room. Fortunately, he and harmonica virtuoso Corky Siegel are engaging showmen and their lighthearted vocals quickly won over the crowd. Siegel's beautifully shaped and shaded cross-harp solos, however, were far more impressive and complemented the similarly colorful and torch-bearing contributions made by guitarist Harvey Mandel and keyboardist Barry Goldberg. Supporting the Reunion was a seasoned, three-piece rhythm section.

-- Mike Joyce

Mike Jones and Lil' Wayne

Adoring fans, chart-topping albums and the finest platinum teeth money can buy don't guarantee happiness, but such spoils should ensure a certain level of contentment. Yet despite possessing those things, Swishahouse star Mike Jones and Ca$h Money Millionaire Lil' Wayne were full of complaints at the Show Place Arena on Friday night.

During the concert, which also featured go-go heavy-hitters T.C.B. and Backyard Band as well as Bad Boy South act Boyz N Da Hood, the headlining southern rappers invited almost as much pitying as they did partying.

After a quick flash of the princess-cut diamonds that decorate his grille, Mike Jones did what he does best: screamed out his name and phone number and restated the same song lines again and again. His repetition is catchy, but as Jones transitions from underdog to industry darling, his recollections of past rejection have grown stale. In his squawking cartoon-character voice, Lil' Wayne emerged in a more upbeat fashion. He wooed the ladies over the marching-band syncopation of "Project Chick," lyrically traveled through the trap with "Tha Block Is Hot" and delivered his cameo verse from the Destiny's Child hit "Soldier."

When the DJ threw on the Snoop Dogg single "Drop It Like It's Hot," Wayne speechified on stealing music. "I feel like that about the song that just played," he said, before launching into his own version of "Drop It Like It's Hot." But Wayne's lament on looting in rap was much more effective in getting young girls to shake than in eliciting sympathy.

-- Sarah Godfrey

David Gray

Back in 2001, it's likely that even fans of David Gray were sick of "Babylon." But now that the airwaves are no longer saturated with the Welsh singer-songwriter's breakout U.S. hit -- which failed to be followed by anything nearly as monstrous -- chances are that the folks who packed the 9:30 club's sold-out show Saturday were itching to hear the big one.

It wasn't to be. Gray has made it known that he's over "Babylon," and instead loaded his smooth 90-minute set with nearly all the tracks off his typically heart-tugging upcoming release, "Life in Slow Motion." And the fans . . . loved it. "Thanks for listening to my new album!" Gray, outfitted in a black suit and open-collar white shirt, told the adoring crowd after kicking off the show with his new single, "The One I Love," and the mid-tempo piano ballad "Nos da Cariad."

With the 9:30 stage cluttered like a rehearsal space and the six-piece band matching Gray's formal wear -- except for his drummer, the singly named Clune, who seemed to think he was at a Jimmy Buffett concert -- the show had the look of an after-prom jam session. Each of the mere 15 songs Gray performed (including favorites "Sail Away" and the set-closing "Freedom") were delivered with polish; his mellower tunes were energized by Clune's tricky percussion work, while delicately laced by Caroline Dale's cello and Gray's own turns on the piano. Throughout, Gray smiled, whooped and bobbed his head, as in love with his new material as the world once was with what's-it-called.

-- Tricia Olszewski

'Techno Issa' Bagayogo

Lately, West African pop has been downplaying Western influences and returning to more traditional instruments and styles. As his nickname suggests, Mali's "Techno Issa" Bagayogo is an exception to this trend. Recording in the Malian capital Bamako with French producer and keyboardist Yves Wernert, Bagayogo embroiders his songs with synth drones and digital beats. Yet both on his latest album, "Tassoumakan," and in concert Saturday at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, Bagayogo didn't sound all that techno. He sang and played kora, a 21-stringed instrument whose resonator is a large gourd, in an easygoing, gently rhythmic mode characteristic of Malian music.

Electronic accents were certainly audible, but mostly at the beginning of the songs. The synthesized chirps, clicks and whooshes that introduced many of the numbers were soon upstaged by Bagayogo and his accompanists, female vocalists Diazeynab Barry and Maimouna Barry and male electric guitarist Mama Sissoko. The arrangements of such tunes as "Ciew Mawele" were simpler than on "Tassoumakan," but no less insinuating.

Bagayogo and Sissoko melded melody and rhythm, playing high, chiming tones that emulated such traditional African tuned-percussion instruments as the balafon. The synth beats that underpinned most of the songs could have been replaced easily by a live percussionist, or forgone altogether -- especially since the audience proved adept at clap-alongs. If "Techno" and his band mates didn't produce the rib-cage-shaking cadences commonly associated with his tag, their percolating motifs were every bit as galvanizing as more assertive beats.

-- Mark Jenkins