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Posted: September 23, 2009

Rhino explores an alternate universe of ‘60s music

Plus the latest from Denver native Corey Harris

Mike Cote

COREY HARRIS blu.black (Telarc)

Corey_Harris.jpgDenver native Corey Harris began his music career as a bluesman. Signed to Alligator Records in 1995, his first couple of discs focused primarily on his interpretations of acoustic country blues standards and a handful of originals. But he's explored a lot of other worlds since then, including funk, R&B and jazz, and has defied categorization.

On blu-black, Harris, who lives in Virgina these days, continues the reggae vibe he explored on Zion Crossroads in 2007, though there's some R&B and ‘70s-style soul and even a blues tune mixed in there, too. It begins with a trio of soul tunes ("Black," "My Song" and "Find a Way") and ends with a traditional-style blues song (simply titled "Blues").

In between, the singer and guitar player focuses mainly on original reggae songs that address the genre's social and political aspects and its African roots ("Conquering Lion," "Babylon," "Blessed Seed") and covers Burning Spear's "Columbus."

On "Pimps and Thieves," Harris takes aim at the sleaze of the entertainment industry and its cycle of creating stars and disposing of them once their fame fades. If that sounds like Harris is biting the hand that feeds him, he can afford to do that for a while: In 2007, Harris won a $500,000 "genius grant" from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Call him a genius with a deep groove. On blu.black, Harris more than proves he's worthy of that "no strings attached" bankroll.

VARIOUS ARTISTS Where the Action is!: Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968 (Rhino)

Nuggets.jpg

You'll find a smattering of recognizable names on Rhino's latest four-disc Nuggets collection, but like its predecessors, nary a hit hides among the 101 tracks.

Focusing on four years of Los Angeles music making, Where the Action is! collects missing-in-action rock, pop, psychedelia, folk and country rock from no-hit wonders as well as artists who would later become superstars.

The musical excavators at Rhino have unearthed several hours' worth of overlooked gems that most fans will be hearing for the first time. "Come Down" by the Common Cold, a piano-based single by singer-songwriter Bill Rinehart that borrows heavily from Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles, is so obscure that Rinehart didn't think it was ever released at all.

Among the previously unissued material are demos by Tommy Boyce & Robby Hart (the songwriting team behind the Monkees), and Stephen Stills & Richie Furay before they formed Buffalo Springfield.

Although the unknown acts far outnumber the brand-names, the track listing includes songs by such mainstays as the Doors, the Byrds, the Monkees, the Beach Boys, Randy Newman, Sonny & Cher, the Association and Warren Zevon. But you don't buy Nuggets sets for the familiar: Prepare to discover an alternate universe of '60s hits.

Like the San Francisco Nuggets box from 2006, Where the Action Is  comes packaged in a lavish coffee table book, with the discs artfully tucked into the back inside cover among 45 rpm labels (although the 50-page book has fewer than half the pages of that exhaustive collection.)

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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