Title: On Solid Ground
Artist: Reggie Harris
Label: Dist. CD Baby
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: April 16, 2021
Veteran folk musician Reggie Harris reflects on the current political and social climate in his new release, On Solid Ground. A descendant of a Confederate general and one of his slaves, Harris says his story also “includes aspects of my journey as a Black male growing up in Philadelphia during the ‘50s and ‘60s; pushed into integrating schools and neighborhoods which forced me to learn to live between two worlds using music as a foil to become a bridge-builder.” He draws upon these experiences across the album’s 13 tracks, many of which harken back to the freedom songs of the Civil Rights Movement.
Opening with It’s Who We Are, Harris sings about the “universal struggle, fed by vicious lies” as he breaks down the myth of American exceptionalism and reveals its sordid underbelly:
You can blame the politicians, you can blame the neighbors too,
You can blame the founding fathers, what them mothers didn’t do.
Well the answer is quite simple, its not hard to recognize
It’s greed, it’s self-indulgence, it’s the fear of compromise.
One of the great storytelling tracks on the album, “Standing in Freedom’s Name” tells the tale of Rev. C.T. Vivian’s iconic encounter with the virulent racist Sheriff Jim Clark in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 as he fought for the rights of Black residents who were attempting to register to vote. This very timely protest song serves as both cautionary tale and urgent call for action as the “forces of oppression are still here for every eye to see.” Other songs on the album strive to convey peace and harmony such as Harris’s rendition of the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” with Baltimore-based jazz pianist Eric Byrd and the vintage Broadway styled song “Maybe It’s Love.” Closing with “High Over the Hudson,” Harris offers a final tribute to his friend and mentor, the late Pete Seeger, who served as an inspiration over the decades.
Backing Harris on this project is a top notch band featuring bassists Chico Huff and Mark Murphy, drummer Matt Scarano, guitarists Pat Wictor and John Platania, saxophonist Ken Ulansey, vocalists Tom Prasado-Rao and Colleen Kattau, and keyboardist Eric Byrd.
On Solid Ground offers a little something for everyone, but Reggie Harris’s hard hitting, provocative tracks that address injustice, encourage dissent, and challenge the status quo are definitely the highlight of the album.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss