Corey Harris "A Bouncy Collage of Styles" (NY Times review)

Chris Burger cburger3001@YAHOO.COM
Thu Jun 13 09:04:51 EDT 2002


A Bouncy Collage of Styles, Each Given a Personal Twist

By JON PARELES, New York Times June 13, 2002

The African diaspora is no place for a musical purist. Its styles have
evolved by constantly adding any promising sound without worrying about
where it came from. Corey Harris, who brought his band, the 55, to the
Mercury Lounge on Monday night, continues that process. While his
foundation is the blues, he also ranges through gospel, Louisiana Creole
music, reggae and African pop. Over the good-timey rhythms, he sings about
slavery, struggle and faith.

Mr. Harris delves deep into each style. His voice changed from a gutsy
blues shout to high, pinched Creole exhortations to a husky soul
declamation. And with the three members of his band, he knocked around all
sorts of syncopations or sailed over them with long lines from a lap steel

He can hark back to the elemental backbeat and searing guitar of Delta
blues. Yet he doesn't simply collect and recreate styles. Mr. Harris can't
resist adding his own combinations to tradition. The hymn "Just a Closer
Walk With Thee" turned into reggae; the Creole song "Eh La Bas" was backed
not by zydeco, but by New Orleans funk.

"Money Eye," from Mr. Harris's new album, "Downhome Sophisticate"
(Rounder), took on the lilt of Congolese soukous, though Mr. Harris sang it
with a rasp rather than a suave Congolese croon. "Black Maria," a song
about poor worshipers making a pilgrimage, had a bolero beat, while Jamal
Millner added darting jazz lead guitar solos. And Mr. Harris's version of
Skip James's "Special Rider Blues" used sparse modal picking he learned in

Mr. Harris wasn't just exploring the musical pleasures of eclecticism. Each
overlay was also a reflection on the history that dispersed African ideas
across two hemispheres, and a tribute to the stubbornness and beauty that
made those ideas survive and spread. The joys of the beat and the shout
were never far away from the determination to remember.


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