Critic's Choice for the week of July 7-13, 2004 

Our writers tell you what's hot this week.

BLUES POWER

Thanks to Ronnie Stewart and the Bay Area Blues Society, you can return to the roots of local blues this weekend with the fifth annual Hayward-Russell City Blues Festival (held in downtown Hayward, at City Hall Plaza), which offers two days of homegrown blues, down-home blues, Oakland Blues, San Francisco blues, Texas blues, Arkansas blues, boogie-woogie blues, and even a bit of zydeco and gospel. Saturday's show features Walter "Wolfman" Washington & the Roadmasters, Fillmore Slim with Bobby Webb and Smooth Blues, Birdlegg and the Tight Fit Blues Band, Texas Johnny Brown and the Quality Blues Band, Tom Rigney & Flambeau, and the not-to-be missed "Boogie Women in Blues" showcase with Carol Fran, Beverly Stovall, and Carmen Getit. Sunday's show offers another spoonful of hard luck and trouble with Lucky Peterson, Rosie Ledet, Little Charlie & the Nightcats, the Russell City Memorial Blues Band, and Endurance. Both shows feature the Bay Area Blues Society Caravan of Allstars Revue, featuring Wylie Trass, Teddy "Blues Master" Watson, Ella Pennewell, and Willie G. Tickets for the 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. events cost $10-$26, and can be had at the BABS office on 13th St. in downtown Oakland or the Bistro in Hayward. For more info, call 510-836-2227. (Eric K. Arnold)

MORE BLUES POWER

Hayward's fest, however, is just the kickoff to a solid season of twelve-bar shuffles in the Bay Area. Tonight and every Wednesday through September, you can relive the golden age of Old Oakland with the Home Grown Blues Series, happening at 9th & Broadway. The Caravan of Allstars will get you started tonight, and the blues progression continues with a host of stellar talent in the weeks to come. Best of all, it's free, so there's really no excuse not to ramble on down there and start livin' on blues power. 5:30-7:30 p.m. 510-836-2227. (Eric K. Arnold)

PALM WINE MUSIC

The Palm Wine Boys play a style of West African folk called, unsurprisingly, "palm wine music," which will remind many of early highlife or old-time acoustic calypso with its lilting melodies, bouncy rhythms, and playful lyrics. The Boys'll be celebrating the release of their second excellent CD, Up and Down, Friday at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage. $15.50-$16.50. 510-548-1761. (j. poet)

NEO-SOUL

In the Badass Neo-Soul Diva pantheon, Lauryn Hill is the fallen angel, Alicia Keys is the cash cow, and Erykah Badu is the bazooka-toting enigma, but chuck 'em all and give me Jill Scott, whose 2000 debut Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1 is a still-stunning mix of hip-hop bravado and Philly cheesesteak soul that demands a Vol. 2 like, yesterday. But the ramp-up may begin Friday at Bimbo's 365 Club in SF, when Ms. Scott grandly reemerges to guarantee post-show romantic interaction, should you bring along a date. $35, 9 p.m. 415-474-0365. (Rob Harvilla)

JAZZ

Learning Curve is the debut album from Bay Area bassist Fred Randolph. Showcasing all original compositions, the Hawaii native displays a talent for writing intriguing hardbop combo jazz -- the frontline horns of Rob Roth (tenor sax) and Don Beck (trumpet) make it happen with seasoned improvisational skill. Tonight he celebrates the CD's release with two sets (8 and 10 p.m.) at Yoshi's in Oakland, joined by Leonard Thompson (piano) and Tim Bulkley (drums). 510-238-9200. $10. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)

HIP-HOP IDOLATRY

American Idol has a good concept, and it's certainly gotten people talking. But if the failure to recognize East Bay hero La Toya London's talent is any indication, the show's value system is completely wack. Luckily, there's the "Got Skillz?" competition and showcase, happening Friday at the Oakland Box, to make up for this still-stinging injustice. The evening is sponsored by Covenant House, a community outreach organization that works with homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth. They'll put up the $100 prize for the competition's winner, with the stipulation that all lyrics must be positive (profanity- and misogyny-free). In addition to hip-hop and R&B contestants, the showcase will also feature performances by Zahkya, Feenom Circle, J.Official, and Certified Ryders. For more information, call 866-635-2382. (E.K.A.)

FOLK

He may live in Sweden (his dad, '60s folkie Leon Bibb, moved there decades back), but Eric Bibb still hits the United States occasionally. In recent years his own albums have featured his gorgeously heartfelt folk voice in songs designed to uplift spirits in trying times, including children's albums with Linda Tillery's Cultural Heritage Choir and his big fan Taj Mahal. And just out is a trio CD, Brothers & Sisters, wherein he harmonizes with Rory Block and Maria Muldaur (fellow folksingers steeped in blues and gospel) on songs by everyone from Bob Dylan to Sister Rosetta Tharpe. On Tuesday at 8 p.m., he throws a solo concert at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage. Tickets are $16.50 in advance, $17.50 at the door. 510-548-1761. (Larry Kelp)

WORLD BLUES

"Cape Verdean artist Maria de Barros has a voice drenched with soul, sincerity and romanticism that forms a strong bond with any who hear her." That's what Essence wrote last year about Maria, a protégée of Cesaria Evora, about her excellent album Nha Mundo (My World). Versed in the morna, a bluesy melancholy song style, she sings in krilou, a mix of West African and Portuguese. A diva ready to happen, she makes her Bay Area debut this Thursday at SF's Great American Music Hall. $19-$21. 415-885-0750. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)

WORLD FOLK

Singer, guitarist, songwriter, and free spirit Olu Dara has been a fixture on the New York scene since the mid-'60s, but didn't start recording until the late '90s, partially due to the encouragement of his son, hip-hop star Nas. Dara's sunny blend of blues, Caribbean, African, and African-American folk styles creates a world music party that'll lift your spirit and move your feet. 9 p.m. Friday at the Great American. $20. 415-885-0750. (j.p.)

OPERA

Festival Opera premieres its new production of Verdi's great Rigoletto this Saturday in Walnut Creek's Dean Lesher Center. Conducted by Michael Morgan, the production features tenor Todd Geer -- the sterling vocal standout of last year's musically and visually convincing production of Aida -- plus baritone Hector Vasquez and soprano Marnie Breckenridge. $31-$61, 8 p.m., 925-943-SHOW. Other performances July 13 and 16 at 8 p.m., and July 18 at 2 p.m. (Jason Victor Serinus)

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