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Music Review: Kim and Reggie Harris – Get on Board! Underground Railroad & Civil Rights Songs Volume 2

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The modern interest in roots music reached its apex with Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, but the tide hasn’t ebbed. Bruce Springsteen resurrected Pete Seeger with his Seeger Sessions record, Jelly Roll Morton’s The Complete Library of Congress Recordings is possibly the most comprehensive history of early jazz, and the Smithsonian Folkways label puts interesting discs on the market, like Classic Railroad Songs and hundreds of others meant to stoke the fires of interest in roots music.

It’s in this spirit that Kim and Reggie Harris release their follow-up to 1997’s Steal Away: Songs of the Underground Railroad, Get on Board! Underground Railroad & Civil Rights Songs Volume 2, a collection of 14 traditional songs integral to the movement of slaves from the South to the North. And while Kim and Reggie Harris perform on all the tracks, they are joined by numerous guest performers such as Bernice Johnson Reagan, who appears on the track “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep”, Matt Jones and Marshall Jones, who sing on and arranged “Old Tar River”, and Danny Glover, who narrates on “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.”

The tracks here have an overall folky, old-time country sound and feel to them, which isn’t surprising given their age and history, and Reggie Harris sings with a voice that recalls, interestingly, Warren Zevon. But Get On Board! isn’t the kind of album you can pop into your car and listen to while driving. Rather, it’s one of those albums that should be listened to with a group of people, together, discussing the history of these songs and their importance and influence of today’s music. In that sense, a classroom setting might be appropriate, but so would a listening and discussion party at home with friends and family. Get On Board! is certainly a valuable and timely record, and Kim and Reggie Harris should be commended for continuing to highlight this music.

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