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May 2000

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Corey Harris and Henry Butler
Vu-Du Menz

Corey Harris / Henry ButlerOn last year's amazing Greens from the Garden, Corey Harris included two live tracks, recorded in New Orleans, which featured guest pianist Henry Butler. Apparently, the two musicians were as pleased at the result as this reviewer, since they are now reunited on the intimate and acoustic Vu-Du Menz (the phonetic transcription of "Voodoo Mens"), with Clifford Alexander helping out on rubboard on two songs. Though the record is on Harris' label (Alligator) and he sings more often than Butler does on the CD and has one more composition, this is very much the result of a close partnership.

Harris is an ardent student of old-time blues, and he uses styles which were popular in the 30's (country blues and hokum) to express modern ideas or reflections on the history of Blacks in America. Witness "King Cotton," the only song where Butler's piano is silent, a country blues that explains the love-hate relationship of the South with cotton.

Butler brings to board a vast knowledge and eclectic tastes: boogie-woogie, ragtime, jazz, an instrumental tribute to the music of New Orleans great James Booker, all masterfully rendered. Highlights include the wonderful double entendre of "Song of the Pipelayer" ("I'm your pipelayer, baby/ And I got just the right length for you"), the bare-bones soul of "There's no Substitute for Love," and the a cappella rendition of the traditional gospel "Why Don't You Live So God Can Use You?"

Lest the reader think this album is simply a showcase of musical forms from long ago, let me mention that Harris and Butler see this music as perfectly suitable for expressing modern concerns. While "Mulberry Row" looks at segregation by using the details of the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his Virginian mistress/slave, "What Man Have Done" deals with man's lack of respect for nature. I could continue on and on. Let's just say that if you don't dig this, you might, as Corey Harris sings on "Let'em Roll," "...have a hole in your soul..."

 --- Benoît Brière

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