Thursday, February 03, 2011

Corey Harris' Distinctive Acoustic Blues

Its been 15 years since Alligator issued the debut album by Corey Harris. Harris, of course has gone on to a significant career which has included not simply acclaimed recordings but also received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. In addition to his blues recordings, he has been one of the more interesting individuals linking blues with reggae, African music and other world music to go beyond being simply one of the more outstanding interpreters of the delta blues tradition alive today. My review of his Alligator debut, Between Midnight and Day, originally appeared in the February 1996 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 208). I have made minor tweaks to it.

Still in his twenties, Corey Harris’ Alligator debut disc, Between Midnight and Day, is among the most distinctive releases of acoustic blues in several years. Produced by Baltimore composer and blues scholar-journalist Larry Hoffman, this release represents Alligator’s expansion into the acoustic blues realm. Born in Denver, Harris went to college in Maine and moved to Cameroon, North Africa at the age of 21. He later returned to teach French and English in the Louisiana public schools and became acquainted with such younger Mississippi blues artists as Lonnie Pitchford and Alvin ‘Youngblood’ Hart .

He has honed his impressive vocal and guitar on a repertoire ranging from Charlie Patton (Pony Blues), Bukka White (Jitterbug Swing), Muddy Waters (Feel Like Going Home), to John Estes (Going to Brownsville) and Blind Boy Fuller (I’m a Rattlesnakin’ Daddy). With a gruff delivery, he has a voice suggestive of Taj Mahal. His playing is relaxed, thoughtful and cleanly articulated with a percussive quality and he never sounds rushed. His controlled slide work is particularly tasty on Fred McDowell’s Write Me a Few Lines. He does the Louis Jordan classic, Early in the Morning, and contributes three originals that reflect the delta tradition including Bound to Miss Me, which is suggestive of Charlie Patton’s Moon Going Down.

He provides individual interpretations of the blues he covers, most noticeably on a superb rendering of Muddy Waters’ She Moves Me. Corey Harris plays blues with a skill belying his age and resulting in a terrific debut.

This should be easy to find as either a CD or a download. I likely received a review copy from Alligator Records back in 1995-1996.

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