From the beginning, Harris has been a compelling and eclectic bluesman. On some numbers, like those from the Son House catalog, he whacks the steel strings of his National guitar with percussive force and wields his metallic slide with a slashing precision that combines ferocity and feeling. On other numbers, his fingerpicking is intricate and gentle, and he'll even sing in French.
A check of his early catalog reveals covers of artists like Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton and Mississippi Fred McDowell alongside many originals. More recently, on "Mississippi to Mali," he added an African cast to some Delta blues by Skip James, with very successful results. Between these efforts, Harris' "Downhome Sophisticate," recorded partly with his 5 X 5 band, added reggae, Afro-pop, electronica, and even calypso elements to the usual blues and gospel numbers, showing it could all flow together.
Harris is likely best-known for his role in Martin Scorcese's 2003 "The Blues" film series for PBS. Of the seven films in that series, Scorcese directed only the first, and that film "Feel Like Going Home" featured Harris on his visits to Mississippi and Mali. One point Scorcese's film made was that if there is a continuum between the spectral blues of Skip James, the percussive boogie of John Lee Hooker and the hypnotic drone of Ali Farke Toure, Corey Harris is uniquely equipped to express it. Andy Garrigue
Corey Harris performs at Ashland Coffee & Tea on Friday, July 30, at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $12 in advance through www.ashlandcoffeeandtea.com or at 798-1702.
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