Kane Is Able

A good blues singer marks tradition by helping us define how we feel about the world in which we live. Great blues singers, like Joplin, Holiday or Bessie Smith, redefine that tradition by letting us glimpse their own worlds. Somehow, the more unique their vocal expressions, the more universal their reaches are into our own soul experiences.

With four CDs in five years, produced by biz legends like Dave Alvin, Val Garay, Derek O'Brien and Mike Vernon, Candye Kane is perched on joining the latter group. Kane seems to allow us, more with each outing, to know her and the underlying truth of her experience: that it's good to have fun being exactly who you are.

The East L.A. native who worked as a porn star in the early '80s brings to her music a persona as richly checkered as any character from a John Waters film. To those who knew her when she sang a cappella doo-wop on amateur TV shows and in the gang-ridden neighborhood of her youth, a music career was a given. Her porn diversion ended in the mid-'80s as she began to open for acts like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. Since 1994, her first three CDs, Home Cookin', Knockout and Diva La Grande, have received critical acclaim here and abroad.

She just recorded Swango, which brings full maturity to her talent. It contains 14 well-crafted selections, more than half of which she wrote herself. They address the politically volatile issues she has lived, such as censorship, homophobia, sexism and prejudice. "200 Lbs of Fun" unabashedly celebrates the joy of beauty and size (her trademarks in that other industry). On "Don't Cry Sister," her wail could grace a Louis Armstrong cornet. Even the title cut, "Swango" (sung in French for her huge European following), says, happily, this lady lives life to its fullest, and loves it.

The remaining cuts pay homage to her idols, Big Maybelle, Bessie Smith and Mama Cass, and to the songwriters who defined styles as varied as swing, '50s doo-wop, beat jazz, vaudeville and barrelhouse blues.

Candye's live shows are even more enjoyable than her recordings. Wild and unpredictable, she loves to have as much fun onstage as may be possible. She's even been known to play the 88s with her 52-inchers.

--David K. Byrne

Candye Kane and the Swingin' Armadillos are scheduled to perform at 9 p.m. Friday, January 15, at the Rhythm Room, 1019 East Indian School. The cover is $7. 265-4842.

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David K. Byrne