Corey Harris – blu.black

January 01, 1970

(Telarc)

 

www.telarc.com

 

Corey Harris is not your ordinary musician. How many 40 year
old artists receive an honorary doctor of music degree from a college and a
“genius award” from the MacArthur Foundation? But Harris got both in 2007. Nor
is Corey Harris your typical blues musician. Harris is a musicologist, seeking
to learn and teach the roots of African-American music and channel its raw
emotion to modern audiences. His musical journey has taken him from the
American south to Africa and everyplace in
between.

 

blu.black is the
eighth album of Harris’s remarkable career and ranks right up there with his
early Alligator releases, Between
Midnight and Day
and Greens from the
Garden,
as his best. Like 2008’s Zion
Crossroads
, we find Harris heavily influenced here by Jamaican music; this
is as much a reggae album as a blues release. But with its 13 original songs
and one Burning Spear cover, it is a tightly arranged set with no song going
over four and a half minutes. Harris is a musical genius at creating a sound
based on minimal instrumentation-guitar, bass, drums and keyboards-and yet
making it sound richly layered and organic. Also added into the mix are the wonderful
sax work of Gordon Jones and beautiful background vocals by Davina and Davita
Jackson.

 

The album starts with the song “Black” and ends with
“Blues.” In between he gives us a history of the African-American – and indeed,
human – experience. His voice can either soar soulfully or rap. Thematically,
he covers everything from the Italians fascists dropping mustard gas on
Ethiopians in “Conquering Lion” to the life affirming love of “King and Queen.”
On “Find a Way” Harris sings, “We living in dark days/We got to shine the
light/So we can find out way back home.”

 

People dealing with evil is a common theme here, whether it
is facing oppression in the pure reggae, “Babylon Walls,” or the racist lies of
Columbus on the Burning Spear song, “Columbus.” Harris performs the latter alone
on acoustic guitar. But the most ominous song on the set is “Pimp and Thieves”
which might be one of the most powerful indictments of the music and
entertainment business recorded recently. “They tell you they gonna make you a
star/ Make you forget you know who you are…And when the money done/ Kick you to
the curb/ Get another one.”

 

The album ends with an authentic blues song. “Blues” is a 12
bar shuffle right out of the Muddy Waters tradition. But the lyrics go back
even further to the Mississippi Delta and Africa
before that. He sings, “I hate to see the evening sun go down/ I hate to see
the evening sun go down/ Because it makes me feel like I am on my last go
round.”

 

That is the blues: people facing all kinds of trouble using
music to show that they are still standing and never giving up despite the
odds. Corey Harris has set the bar so high that he is capable of producing a
masterpiece with each new album. blu.black is a great album from one of America’s greatest musical talents.
Corey Harris is a true artist.

 

 

Standout Tracks: “Blues”
“Pimps and Thieves” “Columbus”
TOM CALLAHAN 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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