Bluesman Harris goes reggae redux
Reviewed February 2010
By Corey Harris
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Corey Harris caught the attention of many blues music fans in 1995 with the acoustic guitar and vocal album "Between Midnight and Day." The traditional blues on that album was followed by several discs that included an eclectic range of music that has included North African, reggae, other Caribbean music, and soul music, as well as blues. In 2007, "Zion Crossroads" focused heavily on reggae, and Harris is back with "blu.black," which features plenty of reggae interspersed with samples of his other music.
Harris wrote or co-wrote all but one of the 14 tunes here, and seven of these are straight reggae tunes; the only cover is of Burning Spear's "Columbus." While Harris has a good blues vocal presence and can play guitar well, he does very little of either on this disc. His voice on the reggae stuff tends to emulate classic reggae voices like Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, and he often drops his own vocal style in an imitation of these guys when he sings. He might be also compared to Taj Mahal, but doesn't play nearly as much blues.
Harris clearly is trying to convey a global message about the black experience here, and the songs are locked in for this. The opener is "Black," which has reggae-style lyrics about the black experience over an R&B beat. After a gospel-flavored "My Song," Harris manages a soul/reggae hybrid with "Find a Way" with a smooth vocal over shimmering keyboard and guitar.
"Conquering Lion," "Babylon Walls" and "Columbus" all explore traditional reggae themes and sounds. "Pimps and Thieves" is interesting, another social commentary over a hypnotic, dark, repetitive hook. More reggae follows ("Blessed Seed," "Backlash"), before a strong finish. "Every Time I Look At You" has a different, churning R&B vibe, a nice little guitar solo by Harris, and is the disc highlight. The closer is "Blues," a traditional mid-tempo 12-bar that includes another bit of Harris' tasteful acoustic lead playing. The disc could probably have used one or two more like this.
Corey Harris is a talented musician who has an agenda with "blu.black." The message is in the songs, and on that level he succeeds. Lovers of reggae will enjoy the music as well.
Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.