Corey Harris, the internationally itinerate blues singer and guitarist whose attention has most recently turned toward Jamaica, is framing his latest works in the easy-going rhythms of late-1970s reggae and the melodic chordings of Southern soul from earlier in the decade. “Zion Crossroads” is the title of his 2007 Telarc album, suggesting a mingling of reggae’s religious invocations and the source of prodigious blues power; his charming tenor, deft guitar skill and compact message songs enthralled an attentive Getty crowd even if the perf didn’t achieve the transcendence of his solo blues shows from a decade ago.
Indebted more to the styles of Winston Rodney (aka Burning Spear) and Peter Tosh than the genre’s obvious source (Bob Marley), Harris has grounded his material in themes of injustice and cultural awareness without ever stepping across the line into heavy handedness. Without pushing or mining intricacies within the style, he’s a convincing reggae performer.
The songs are well played without a constant adherence to the Jamaican blueprint for the bass and drums relationship; band delivered sharply some of the echo-laden and gelatinous sounds associated with dub, switched to a pleasant island sound then punctuated the more political material with a strident instrumental attack.
Harris is mostly the rhythm guitarist, given few opportunities to flash his incomparable fingerpicking style. He did get a chance to show off some of the African technique he picked up while chronicling the relationship between the music of Mali and Mississippi for Martin Scorsese’s series of blues films. Encore was the lone blues piece of the night and there he opted to flatpick in a Chicago style.
Hawaiian ukulele player and singer Paula Fuga opened the evening, blending reggae and its consciousness-raising lyrics with the island’s sweet and comforting indigenous music. Title track from her album “Lilikoi” and a not-yet-recorded song were highlights in lyric and presentation: She possesses an commonly gorgeous voice and holds notes that wrap around a listener like a mother’s embrace. Her backup consisted of appropriately subtle acoustic guitar and some scattered conga playing that never tethered the needed rhythm.