I'm a huge music fan and love all kinds of music, especially The Blues, owning around 100 blues CDs, including a few others by Corey Harris; I've even seen him perform live, and would consider myself a fan.
This CD is related to Corey's participation in Martin Scorsese's PBS documentary about The Blues, and attempts (rather successfully) to draw the links between American Blues and its African roots through collaboration with modern-day African musicians. There are new originals, a tribute to recently-passed Otha Turner (who was to have played on the album), and a number of excellent covers of classic blues tunes (Big Road Blues, Special Rider Blues, Station Blues, 44 Blues, Catfish Blues, Dark Was The Night...) that many blues fans will be familiar with, collaborations with African music star Ali Farka Toure (a superb guitarist/vocalist) and others, along with American blues artists like Bobby Rush.
OK, so far so good -- a good concept for a blues journey, and quality music performed by quality musicians all converge towards excellent music and performances.
But there is a MAJOR problem with this album -- about 1/2 of the songs (any songs that have Souleyman Kane playing percussion on them) were extremely poorly recorded. The problem is that the percussionist plays some very loud percussion instruments (I have no idea what exactly they are) that sound exactly like people playing ping-pong. And he plays them loudly and constantly throughout the entire song -- so much so that it sounds like someone is playing a ping-pong game in front of my stereo, obscuring the vocals, guitars, and whatever else is on the recording! Those songs should be labled as "Souleyman Kane featuring other musicians and vocalists far in the background". He is a talented and interesting percussionist, don't get me wrong, but he's not the reason I'm listening to this music.
This sort of recording quality problem might be excused from a classic field recording made in the 1920's or 1930's, but there is absolutely no excuse for this sort of problem to be heard on a recording made in 2002 & 2003! OK, I realize that they made many of the recordings in remote Mali, but that is no excuse for the engineers not to listen back to the recordings and adjust the setup so that you can hear the instruments in proper balance (I've done a bit of recording engineering myself in the past, so I know a bit about the subject). I could even excuse this issue if it only existed for a song or 2 if they noticed and then corrected it, but it is really problematic throughout 8 of the 15 songs!
You may think I'm just a stickler for a good recording, but I am not -- it REALLY detracts from enjoying the music -- after a while you'll find that the only thing you're hearing on the songs is the ping-pong sound. Check out some of the other reviews if you don't believe me -- I'm not the only one commenting on this.
If you decide to buy this CD, you will probably find yourself listening to the whole thing once and then subsequently programming your CD player to play only the 7 songs on the disc without the percussionist. Then you'll have a 5-star (if short) CD. Otherwise I give this 5 stars for 7 of the songs, 2 stars for the other 8, averaging out to about 3 stars.