Thursday, June 28, 2007

Edenton reviewed by Mark Thomspon

Kemp Harris
Righteous Mischief, LLC
11 tracks/ 39:47

This is the second recording by Kemp Harris, a name I was not familiar with prior to receiving this disc. He is primarily a singer who also plays some piano. Harris wrote three of the tracks and had a hand in composing four other cuts. He covers tunes by Memphis Slim, Willie Nelson and Donny Hathaway/Leroy Hutson. The Holmes Brothers contribute backing vocals on three tracks.
Harris works in the territory where blues and gospel music intersect. The lyrics cover faith and religious themes while the music sometimes settles into a blues rhythm that would be right at home at any club on a Saturday night. At other times, Harris displays a high level of originality that shapes the music into exciting performances that demand your attention. Listen to his acappella version of the traditional gospel hymn “Didn’t It Rain”. Harris’s voice is up to the task of laying out the spirited lead vocal. He is joined by his mother and aunt on backing vocals that are strong enough to make you forget that both are close to 80 years young.
That song is followed by a cover of “Mother Earth”, featuring a big beat and some wicked slide guitar from Josh Stoltzfus. “Miles Between Us” is a smoldering slow blues examining the end of a relationship. Harris belts out the vocal on the first one, then goes deep inside for the intensity needed to make the second track come to life. He holds his own vocally on “Sweet Weepin Jesus” and “Day After Day”, not at all intimidated by the presence of the Holmes Brothers.
Accompanied by a lone acoustic bass on Nelson’s classic “Nightlife”, Harris is free to let loose with a powerful vocal performance that manages to capture the tune’s loneliness and regret before he starts to testify in the style of the best soul singers. The title track finds Harris on piano for a song that explores racial tension in his hometown.
Kemp Harris has a unique musical vision that takes you to some of the dark corners of life before lifting you up with the spirit of redemption that comes from faith. He has crafted a disc that can be challenging, offering many rewards to those willing to take the time to give this work some serious listening time.

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