Album review: COREY HARRIS – Fulton Blues

Corey Harris - Fulton Blues

Blues Boulevard [Released 09.05.14]

Corey Harris is an elemental traditional blues artist and story teller. He’s got an essential grasp of his own culture and he’s unafraid to voice the socio-historical legacy as means of making sense of the present and perhaps helping shape the future.

His weathered voice sometime sounds like John Hiatt as his phrasing uncovers deep lyrical meaning and expresses real feel as only the blues can do. Corey’s blues link the past and present. The characters may have gone, but the culture lives on and he unflinchingly writes about the south’s murky past on songs in solo, duo and full band mode.

He’s engaging, rigorously analytical, but surprisingly non judgemental. There’s no escaping the wrongs of the past on his re-recorded 1999 song ‘Lynch Blues’, but it’s an integral part of the socio-historic base of the current album.

His lyrics can be biting as when he cast his reflective gaze on the domestic status quo of ‘House Negro Blues’, which is voiced over a horn filled New Orleans lilt. Similarly the dark lyrics of Tallahatchie’ – the river where the body of murdered 14 year old Emmett Till’s was discovered – resonates because of the integrity of its author. The songs poignancy is given extra emphasis by the punchy horns.

‘Fulton Blues’ forges a link back to his ancestors and he writes from both a personal and collective perspective. In many respects he’s comparable to Taj Mahal in his understanding of where the music comes from and what it has to say about the present.

The album title track is a husky voiced country blues duet with Hook Herrera on harp, and refers to the city of Fulton in Virginia, the former slave capital of the south, which has long since been swept away.

The opening ‘Crying Blues’ contrasts some sorrowful lyrics with a swinging horn arrangement as his vocal swoops dominate.

He strips things down to a simple acoustic and voice on ‘Underground’, a story about hard times and the dispossessed: “Down at the station where the weary get their rest’. His aching vocal has a hypnotic quality and his lyrics shift from the personal to the universal: ‘People the same, No matter where you go; They give to the rich, Stealing from the poor’.

J.Gilly Blues is another harp and guitar duet on an ode to recently deceased drummer Johnny Gilmore, while ‘Black Woman Gate’ is a beautiful song full of longing, evocative lyrics and another aching vocal.

Skip James’s ‘Devil Got My Woman’ is full of emotive phrasing,  while the contrasting electric swagger of ‘Catfish Blues’ brings frisson burning variety to the album, as both Corey and sax player Gordon Jones solo extravagantly.

There’s brighter subject matter on ‘Maggie Walker Blues’, the tale of the first black women bank president, though the last line significantly tells us she’s: ‘Buried up at Evergreen cemetery; Don’t nobody come around’.

The closing ‘Fat Duck’s Groove’ sounds like an after hours instrumental, by a band that has been restraint personified the whole album through. The two live bonus tracks explore ska and Latin tinged jazzy fusion and serve to illustrate the wide musical variety that Correy often explores outside of the parameters of this album.

‘Fulton Blues’ successfully fuses traditional blues with a contemporary articulation to leave its mark. ***½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra

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