Whatever this website is called, this isn’t a blues review. This isn’t a blues CD. It is by a fine blues musician but, like Taj Mahal before him, he has followed his muse first into African roots and now reggae.
‘Ark Of The Covenant’ is a good opener, with a sound emulating that on the best Jamaican records from the late 1960s and early 1970s, and other tracks reach this high standard. Some however suggest Harris’s creativity deserted him halfway through writing songs whose second halves settle for repetition.
Harris clearly immersed himself in West Indian culture before making this CD. DJ Ranking Joe collaborates on one track and another asks (many times) “Who remember Walter Rodney?” (I don’t, but I understand he was responsible for raising class awareness in the Caribbean leading to the “Rodney riots” and his being first banned from Jamaica then assassinated).
But has Harris overdone it? His singing makes me as uncomfortable as 10cc’s “Dreadlock Holiday” did thirty years ago. Well-educated Brits putting on the patois felt wrong then. Hearing a clever American doing it now is no better. “Politicians lying everyday getting paid just to thief from we”? Come on Corey, you know better than that. Okay, there’s irony in this criticism coming from an Englishman who grew up listening to white boys singing about mojos and hoochie coochie men, but I’d like to think we’ve all moved on. On “Cleanliness” Harris’s fake accent made me think he kept shouting “Chocolates”. On checking the leaflet (which has the lyrics and anything else you might want to know except who Walter Rodney was) I discovered it was “Jah bless”.
In the last track he exhorts rastas to “keep your culture”. Here’s my analogy: I can just about stomach British politicians telling me to protect my cultural identity. It’s usually a thinly-veiled encouragement of xenophobia, but I’m used to it and take it with a vanload of salt. To be told the same thing by George Bush would be much more condescending and offensive. If the rastas need this advice from Corey Harris, which I doubt, it is already too late.
If it’s not a blues CD, does it succeed as reggae? If I want something superficially reggae-ish on in the background this album does a good job of pretending to emanate from the era covering the last years of ska to early dub. If I want to listen more closely and think about what I’m hearing, I’ll choose something more authentic.