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Pop Music Reviews : Blues on the Rocks From Albert Collins

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Blues songwriting giant Willie Dixon may have been given a lifetime achievement award by the UCLA Fine Arts Committee of suchandsuch Thursday night at the Wadsworth Theatre, but it was the headlining Albert Collins who provided the textbook study of unorthodox blues guitar playing.

The Texas-born, L.A.-based “master of the Telecaster” combines a no-pick, all-fingers approach with the constant use of a capo to produce a patented piercing tone not unlike the sound of shearing sheet metal. As evidenced on his signature tune--the ‘50s cult jam/instrumental “Frosty”--Collins gets 16 tons of mileage out of plucking two notes (particularly harmonics) at once, coloring the ice-blue proceedings with a shivering vibrato and a jagged rhythm.

A rough-hewn vocalist, Collins specializes in long set pieces such as “I Ain’t Drunk (Just Drinkin’)” and “Master Charge” in which he talk/sings a story, stopping to silently mouth the dialogue while duplicating the sound/tone/message of what’s being said with a nigh-endless supply of flash guitar whizzums.

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Backed by his usual touring outfit, the punchy, seven-piece Icebreakers, Collins gets jivey in the halls of ivy, walking into the audience and playing chorus after chorus from a 10th-row seat. Only a crucial broken string, an equally crucial intonation breakdown and a generally muggy sound balance prevented the evening from being more than a showcase for the tip of the Iceman’s talents.

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