Corey Harris at Blues Alley
Wednesday, February 13, 2008 at 03:14PM
Stephen Brookes

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • February 12, 2008

Corey Harris                                                               Jennifer Esperanza
Corey Harris, the blues-singing, guitar-picking, MacArthur-certified genius of all styles, has spent his life exploring the world's music, soaking up everything from Cameroonian makossa to Texas blues and fusing it into his own distinctive, forward-looking style. With last year's "Zion Crossroads" he headed into roots reggae, and on Sunday night at Blues Alley he proved that this latest journey was well worth the trip: There's a political current running through his music now that gives it real power.

Playing hollow-bodied electric guitar and backed up by his 5x5 band, Harris devoted most of the set to songs from "Zion," including "No Peace for the Wicked," "In the Morning" and the driving "Ark of the Covenant." Harris's reggae is nuanced, message-heavy and relatively low-key -- more Burning Spear than Bob Marley -- and despite a put-on Jamaican accent it felt edgy and authentic; Harris may be eclectic, but he's no mere imitator.

The famously warm, growling voice was in fine form, set mostly on a slow burn but occasionally exploding with passion, and Harris displayed his legendary finger-picking skills in bluesy numbers such as "Mami Wata" (dedicated to the victims of Katrina), "More Precious Than Gold" and the makossa-inflected "Sister Rose." But some of the most memorable moments of the evening came when the band (including the fierce, funky Houston Ross on bass) left the stage and Harris played half a dozen acoustic numbers by himself. Spare and haunting, they had a quiet power that showed just how deep Harris's musical currents really run.

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