In a career that spans more than a decade, Corey Harris has dug into the roots of African-American music perhaps more deeply than any of his predecessors. More than just a songwriter and musician, he is also a pilgrim in search of the music’s earliest origins, beyond the Mississippi delta to the continent of Africa and the three-thousand-year-old underpinnings of contemporary culture.
The culmination of this journey is Zion Crossroads, Harris’ debut recording on Telarc. Inspired and informed by his travels to various parts of Africa over the past decade, the album captures some of the most enduring elements of African-American music – blues, reggae, soul and so much more – and infuses them with a sense of history, social consciousness and spirituality.
“I wanted to make a record that was all roots-oriented,” says Harris. “I wanted to do a record that blended all of my influences, but that was all original at the same time. So in that sense, there were two sides to this project. There were the lyrics and the concepts and the songwriting, and then there was the music of it all too. That’s why I called it Zion Crossroads. It’s a spiritual record, but at the same time, it’s talking about the crossroads – not just the crossroads that we all understand in the blues context, but in all the meanings of that word.”
Harris gets help on the path to Zion Crossroads from producer Michael G, the guitarist and co-founder of Easy Star All-Stars, the New York-based reggae collective that crafted Dub Side of the Moon (2003) and Radiodread (2006). Like Harris, he sees the project as a powerful convergence of style, vision, history and culture: “The marriage of Corey's socially conscious lyrics and the revolutionary sounds of reggae make for a potent musical cocktail that arouses the body, mind, and spirit.”
Zion Crossroads is a rich tapestry of thematic layers – on one hand diverse, yet all part of an unmistakable and fascinating whole. “I just have to be true to where I am and what I’m doing at all times,” says Harris. “It was just time for me to do this, because I’d been edging toward different styles and edging toward something like this in my records for more than a decade. I’ve never been content to do the same thing over and over again.”