Greens From The Garden

Corey Harris

Alligator Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I have a problem with Corey Harris.

You see, Harris is signed to a blues label, yet he eschews being called a blues artist, and the influences in his music are often anything but the blues. His latest release, Greens From The Garden, is further evidence of this, and one can't help but think that calling Harris strictly a bluesman would be like asking Motorhead to perform Beethoven's Sixth.

Sound like I'm slamming Harris? Actually, I'm not; Harris, with this album, releases one of the more quirky and curious albums of the year, though I question whether or not the album would have been tighter without numerous asides peppered throughout. More on that in a minute.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Harris stays true to his love of juju music, thanks to a stint in Cameroon in 1991. While this might not be the typical angle one would expect from an artist on a blues label, it is a natural fit for Harris. Tracks like "Eh La Bas" (hmm, second album I've heard this song on in weeks, though Harris's sounds much closer to the bone) and "Pas Parlez" shimmer with excitement; you can hear the exuberance that Harris and his bandmates have in these performances. (Note to whoever's in charge of these things at Alligator: putting the artist credits behind the CD tray makes them much harder to read.)

But while Harris might not be strictly a blues musician, its roots can still be clearly heard in tracks like "Basehead," "Sweet Black Angel," "Nola Rag" and "Lynch Blues". With a wide variety of musicians (far too many to list here, and to try to list just a few wouldn't do the whole crew justice), Harris is able to to create a style of the blues that is both modern and - dare I say it? - fun to listen to. Even for someone like myself who loves the blues, Greens From The Garden is a disc that is a refreshing eye-opener, though it does take some time to get used to.

For all of this, Harris makes only two mistakes. First is a reggae-tinged version of "Just A Closer Walk With Thee," a song that would have been better had it been shorter - but I don't see this as a major mistake. The other is that Harris tries to follow through with the theme of the album's title by putting in snippets about greens featuring family members (?), friends and acquaintances of Harris. Problem is that you get hit with these far too often; I don't think more than three songs elapse before - wham! - another interlude. One word: Overkill.

Still, Greens From The Garden makes for a tasty, but unusual, dish to lay in front of a blues fan that you might know. And while Harris does succeed in the overall picture, be warned that this plate is an acquired taste.

Rating: B

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Alligator Records, and is used for informational purposes only.