Now here's something you rarely find in the blues bin: a concept album.
New Orleans resident and country bluesman Corey Harris relates music to nourishment on Greens From the Garden, his third and best release. Like sumptuous courses at a great Southern feast, there's a variety of sustaining musical styles on Greens. Harris's tunes are interspersed with spoken snippets that I find annoying, but his music more than compensates.
Greens benefits from a live-in-the-studio feel. Stylistically this CD goes far beyond country blues to include funk ("Basehead"), mambo ("Eh La Bah"), Cajun waltz ("Pas Parlez"), New Orleans second-line brass ("Congo Square Rag") and even reggae (with a skanked-up version of the hymn "Just A Closer Work With Thee").
The guitar-wielding Harris goes electric on this one, yet he doesn't abandon the Piedmont and lap-style acoustic blues of his two previous releases. The lazy blues of "Honeysuckle" and the traditional acoustic blues of "Sweet Black Angel" and "Diddy Wah Diddy" are similar to his earlier material.
Harris is a fine guitarist, equally comfortable with Piedmont fingerpicking, Delta slide, and modern electric. Harris's emotional vocals are not unlike Taj Mahal's, and like Mahal's early albums, the music on Greens is ruggedly spunky. A couple of the original tracks here feature well-crafted lyrics that far transcend the ordinary. On "Basehead" he depicts cocaine addiction as a modern form of slavery. On the stinging "Lynch Blues," he sings pointedly about racial injustice.
The remaining tunes are less serious but no less effective. A real highlight is the summery "Honeysuckle Blues," which features some great old-timey piano work by New Orleans virtuoso Henry Butler, as well as some downhome fiddling.
Lose the spoken snippets, add a couple more songs, and Corey Harris would have cooked up a blues classic with Greens. As it stands, this CD is a fine offering from a creative bluesman whose musical roots spread out from the Deep South to many exotic locales.