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Corey Harris -

Telarc Records

14 songs; 52:54 minutes; Suggested

Genre: Roots Music

Styles: Reggae, Blues, R&B, Soul

Did you listen to music while doing homework in high school (or college)? I tried that simultaneous approach, but it never worked to enhance my academic status. The music was always so much more interesting than the subject I was studying that my attention constantly got diverted.

Now, further on down the road, I try to listen to music while I write checks, pay bills, and do the family budget each month. I have learned by now that only a certain kind of music will allow me to concentrate on the arithmetic while the select music greases the wheels. Generally, mellow music works best.

Having given 40 year old Corey Harris’ latest CD a cursory listen, I knew it was mellow acoustic, mainly Reggae music, and, therefore, should have been appropriate. The reality was this: trying to concentrate on accurate numbers in each budget line item did not work worth a damn during the poly-rhythms and intricate 5 and 6 piece full band arrangements. But, mainly the lyrics to those soothing songs were way too thought provoking.

For example, as a retired American history teacher, I was immediately distracted from my calculations by the song “Columbus.” Harris sings, “Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar” referring to an old theme touched upon by Dick Gregory in his book “No More Lies” about the ridiculousness of saying that Columbus “discovered Jamaica” (America) when there were native American people (“Arawak Indians”) already living here. Well, I do not think Columbus was a liar. Columbus was a man who did not know where he was going; did not know where he was when he got there; and died never knowing where he had been. Columbus was unaware and misinformed, but unlikely a “liar.” Anyhoo..., see what I mean about thought provoking lyrics?

Utilizing a different musical style for each song, Harris and band mates explore more thinker’s themes including joy, tender love, freedom, freedom fighters, injustice, struggle, poverty, oppression, more history (“Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, The Vatican”), and a brutal indictment of the entertainment industry that pimp people out and steal from them (“Pimps and Thieves”). “There’s a blues song at the end of the sequence that’s simply called ‘Blues,’ and a song at the beginning called ‘Black,’” Harris says of the range of material on the recording. “The record is both of those things and everything in between. All the styles in all those songs represent everything between blue and black.”

Mostly, I could agree with, be informed by, and was definitely entertained through the lyrics of the fourteen original songs that examine the African-American story of earlier centuries and connect it to the present day. An immediate ear worm (song that gets stuck in you head) for both my wife and me was “My Song.” Harris as song narrator embodies all African slaves brought to America and stripped of everything, but, he sings, “You can’t take away my song.” Truly, Blues music would not have developed without the remembered rhythms and instruments from Africa. Musically, the song is Gospel-like with swelling and powerful, yet intricate piano by producer Chris “peanut” Whitley with only Harris’ acoustic rhythm guitar for accompaniment. Harris’ lead vocals backed by the harmony of Davina and Davita Jackson is the song’s true forte as they repeat “Can’t take away my song” while shifting from higher to lower then back to higher registers.
Overall, lovers of rich musical melodies will enjoy the eclectic album, although for fans of Blues-Rock, Texas Roadhouse Blues, or Chicago Blues, for examples, this CD will be Python-esquely “And now for something completely different.” It may even seem different for Corey Harris fans only familiar with his 1995 Alligator Records release, “Between Midnight and Day.” Note: for those folks, he does include one traditional 12 bar shuffle, titled “Blues” in conjunction with the CD title. Harris also steps away from 1995 by affecting his dialect to Caribbean Rastafarian culture, nicely performing in a form far from his Colorado upbringing and Maine college years.

While enjoying his music, also check out the erudite Harris’ bio of world travels and culture immersion, especially the last seven years, which reveals how the intersection of art, history and culture remains at the center of his work.

Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Thursdays from 7 - 8 pm and Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at in Kankakee, IL

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