News Column

Blues in the evening as Bates College presents Concerts on the Quad series [Sun Journal (Lewiston, ME)]

June 4, 2013


LEWISTON -- Enjoy three distinctly different approaches to that quintessential American music, the blues, as Bates College presents its new outdoor music series, Concerts on the Quad.

Concerts on the Quad performances take place at 6:30 p.m. on three summer Thursdays on Bates' Historic Quad, at College Street and Campus Avenue. Admission to the series is free, and audience members are encouraged to bring picnics and chairs or blankets.

Taking the place of the college's Midsummer Lakeside Concerts, the new series continues Bates' long and popular tradition of presenting outdoor music for the whole family. For more information, call 207-786-6400.

Concerts on the Quad performers:

Corey Harris, a singer-songwriter featured in the Martin Scorsese blues documentary "Feel Like Going Home," opens the series with a solo show on July 18.

A Portland bluesman praised as a "guardian of lightning," Samuel James offers a solo performance on Aug. 1.

In her third visit to Bates, veteran blues, gospel and jazz singer Francine Reed performs with her band on Aug. 15.

More about the performers:

Corey Harris

A powerful singer, skilled and inventive songwriter, Harris has carved out his own niche in the blues. A member of the Bates College class of 1991 and the recipient of both a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" and an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Bates in 2007, he is an intrepid explorer of blues, jazz, reggae and other genres.

The MacArthur Foundation described Harris as an artist who "forges an adventurous path marked by deliberate eclecticism." As Harris himself told National Public Radio, "I'd like to call my music 'diaspora rock.' ... I'm looking at my people who are black around the world, seeing what unites us musically and trying to express that as a black American."

Harris has played venues including the Royal Albert Hall in London, the Lincoln Center in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He has performed in Africa, South America, the Caribbean, Europe, Japan and New Zealand.

In 2003, Harris was at the center of "Feel Like Going Home," the debut episode of Scorsese's PBS documentary series "The Blues." For that episode he traveled to Mali to play with Ali Farka Toure, a journey he repeated for his album "Mississippi to Mali," which explored connections between African music and the blues.

An anthropology major at Bates, Harris studied in West Africa, completing a senior thesis on pidgin English in Cameroon. He won a prestigious Watson Fellowship that supported another visit to Cameroon after graduation. His time in Africa has deeply influenced his work, and his adaptations of African music have won national regard.

"This is what we as black Americans gave to the world: the concept of blues," Harris said in a 2002 interview for Rounder. "But at the same time, I'm of a different generation. I didn't ever have to go to the back of a bus.

"So I'm trying to represent what my tradition is, and then represent my individual self in the movement."

Harris released his first album, "Between Midnight and Day" in 1995. His second, "Fish Ain't Bitin' " won a W.C. Handy Award, now known as the Blues Music Award, for best acoustic blues album. His newest release, 2013's "Fulton Blues," explores the history of a now- lost black community in Richmond, Va.

Samuel James

Winner of the R&B, soul and blues category in the Portland Phoenix's 2012 Best Music Awards, James was described by the French edition of Rolling Stone magazine as a "guardian of lightning." He has also been called "part Bill Withers, part Tom Waits, part James Brown, part Leo Kottke and part P.T. Barnum."

A deeply soulful singer, virtuoso instrumentalist and captivating storyteller, James has spent recent years touring North America and Europe. He comes from a line of performers dating back to the 1890s, including dancers, storytellers, a session jazz pianist and porch- stomping guitar thumpers. His songwriting encompasses themes from the heavenly flights and evil depths of love to tales of true and bizarre folk heroes.

James played Guitar Man in the Penobscot Theatre Company's 2010 production of "Spunk," the Maine premiere of a critically acclaimed play adapted from stories by Zora Neale Hurston.

He has released three recordings conceived as a trilogy, all on the Northern Blues label. Of his debut, 2008's "Songs Famed for Sorrow and Joy," Allmusic Guide wrote, "In an era when popular music is becoming increasingly perfect-sounding, and robotic, [James] provides a much needed alternative."

"For Rosa, Maeve and Noreen" followed in 2009. Completing the trilogy is 2012's "And for the Dark Road Ahead," praised for transposing a mid-20th-century country-blues aesthetic into the high- tech present.

James has performed at music festivals from New Mexico to Ottawa to Poland, and at venues including San Francisco's Biscuits & Blues, Montreal's Club Soda, the Green Note in London and Johnny D's in Somerville, Mass.

Francine Reed

Performing at Bates with musicians including several from Maine, Reed may be best-known to many listeners for her work as part of Lyle Lovett's Large Band. But though she didn't receive national recognition until she began recording with Lovett in 1985, she has always been a singer, first performing with her family gospel choir.

Reed began performing professionally in the 1980s, picking up gigs in jazz clubs and functions in Phoenix, Ariz. She became known for her powerful voice and commanding stage presence, offering a blend of jazz, blues and R&B. She opened shows for such artists as Miles Davis, Etta James, Smokey Robinson and the Crusaders.

In 1985, friends introduced Reed to Lovett, who was searching for a female singer for his new band. Lovett was still a struggling performer when they met, but as his star rose, Reed became an integral part of his show.

Reed toured with Lovett as a background vocalist, but also performed duets with the country musician. She was featured on several Lovett albums and sang with him on such television shows as "Late Night with David Letterman," "The Tonight Show" and "Regis and Kathy Lee."

After moving to Atlanta, she recorded her debut solo album, "I Want You to Love Me," which featured a duet with Lovett. The follow- up, "Can't Make It on My Own" included a duet with Delbert McClinton. Subsequent discs include "Shades of Blue" and "American Roots: Blues."

A standout in a typical Reed set is her rendition of the 1924 classic "Wild Women (Don't Get the Blues)." Reed performed on Willie Nelson's acclaimed 2000 album "Milk Cow Blues," lending her talent to the title track as well as to Nelson's countrypolitan classic "Funny How Time Slips Away." In recent years Reed has appeared as the character "Chanteuse" for the avant-garde theater Teatro ZinZanni in Seattle.

Jon Reece photo Portland-based blues musician Samuel James

Submitted photo Francine Reed

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