Since arriving on the national stage in the mid-90s, guitarist Corey Harris has been a leading light in the revival of acoustic blues–but in the last few years he’s also steadily expanded his vision of what that means. The liner notes to his latest CD, Greens From the Garden (Alligator), declare the blues a living heritage and a voice for solidarity among people of the African diaspora; the music follows through, borrowing heavily from contemporary funk, Creole, reggae, and other Caribbean sources as well as from rural blues. Sometimes Harris overplays his earnestness–he forces a Jamaican accent and spouts Rastafarian bromides on “Wild West,” and Billy Bragg adds vocals to another track–but for the most part his exuberance keeps the righteousness tolerable. “Basehead” lays antidrug lyrics over a rollicking meld of funky boogie and electrified Delta-style slide, and on “Lynch Blues” a dirty slow grind accompanies a harrowing tale that he sings like Charlie Patton rasping from beyond the grave. Harris playfully invokes ragtime guitarist Blind Blake’s intricate fingerpicking on “Diddy Wah Diddy”; he bellows his new-traditional “Honeysuckle” over an eloquent braiding of his own slide guitar, Henry Butler’s barrelhouse piano, and Michael Ward’s string-band fiddle; and he straddles the lurching backwoods Louisiana cadence of “Eh La Bas” like a Creole cowboy. Harris’s Chicago show will be acoustic, but he’ll be joined by two of the musicians from Greens From the Garden, guitarist Jamal Millner and Pointman, who plays African percussion–so he ought to be able to capture the feeling of the new disc even in this unplugged setting. Friday, 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000. Harris will also give a free in-store performance Saturday at 2 PM, Borders Books & Music, 830 N. Michigan, 312-573-0564. DAVID WHITEIS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Sam Erickson.