Corey Harris, Zion Crossroads
Perhaps more than any other artist, Corey Harris has mastered and synthesized the several traditions of African Diaspora music. A roots-music archeologist as much as he is a singer-songwriter and guitarist, Harris always reveals something fundamental about the music even as he puts his own wide-awake stamp on it, whether it's blues, soul, Afropop or reggae.
Harris's first Telarc release is a big change from Daily Bread, which came out on Rounder Records two years ago. That album ranged across several styles and traditions, and consisted mostly of humanistic or personal songs. Zion Crossroads on the other hand is almost pure reggae, and highly political. On both counts it's an exciting set of music.
For an artist writing such socially aware songs, a sense of playfulness is important, to counterbalance the grim state of the world he's describing and engaging. Harris brings just enough merriment to his writing and recording. Lively beats and melodies animate serious subject matter in "No Peace for the Wicked" (with guest vocals by Ranking Joe), "Keep Your Culture," and "Afrique (Chez Moi)" - the last sung in fractured French.
High spirits give way to heavier hearts in songs like "Heathen Rage:" "Jah made us to live in a free world/Babylon take it and make it a he world/Leave out the mothers, daughters, and the females/Leave out the blacks and they left out the browns/Make them to build up your cities and towns/Steal their religion and turn them into clowns." But injustice does not make the songs plod or sound bitter. To my non-African ears, Harris gets the reggae language and lilt down perfectly: "trodding inna Zion/children got to ride on/just like a conquering lion/true true African." The CD is a worthy addition both to Corey Harris's discography and to the reggae tradition.
Jack Foster III, Tame Until Hungry
"There's no mythology in pain." From the first lyric on Jack Foster III's new CD, we can tell we're not in for everyday prog-rock bombast. These 13 complex, richly orchestrated songs, sung assuredly in Foster's thick baritone and stretched high with grand harmonies, mine the varied terrains of hard rock, acoustic music, and melodic progressive rock. At the same time, they're firmly layered in the deeper tradition of plain old song.
There is even a sense - a modest one - of a lighter touch than that wielded by many progressive-minded artists. "Civilized Dog" swings close to rootsiness, and "One Dark Angel" with its mellow harmonies even flirts with the heartland before devolving into a powerful sax solo (by David Hipshman).