Reggie Harris, Solid Ground
Reggie Harris has been a hard-working touring musician, performing a socially-conscious folk music for the last forty years. He has in excess of a dozen albums to his credit, many of these along with Kim Harris. He is also a 2021 winner of both the Spirit of Folk Award from Folk Alliance International and the W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Award, has been recently featured on CNN and The New York Times, and is a teaching artist in the Kennedy Center’s CETA program (Changing Education Through the Arts) and a fellow for the prestigious Council of Independent College lecture program.
Born and raised in Philadelphia´s projects in the 1950s by a loving mother and grandmother, Harris was painfully aware of the disadvantage and racism that blighted his neighbourhood and throughout his career has focused on educating audiences through his music about the brutal history of African Americans and sought to use it as a discourse for inclusion and the struggle for human rights.
On Solid Ground is a collection of 13 songs born out of Harris’s belief in the power of music and that his songs can “help save the world.” There are 9 original songs and 4 covers, all combined as Harris’s response to the huge disruptions in American life during 2020 caused by the pandemic and the smouldering social unrest that burst out in the wake of a variety of incidents of police brutality. Said Harris, “The months and issues from then to now produced one of the most prolific writing and outreach periods of my life.”
Harris’ sweet tenor vocals belie the serious and hard-hitting lyrics of the songs. In the opener, It’s Who We Are, Harris won’t let America off the hook wondering how it got to where it is right now. The problem isn’t the politicians or our neighbours – the problem is staring right back from the mirror. There’s no “we’re better than this.” For Harris, sorting things out starts with a recognition of “it’s who we are.”
And in On Solid Ground, “All around us there’s hatred… all around us there’s fear, Violence touches our lives and the message is clear.” It’s been a “hard journey,” a “heavy load” has been carried and “we all feel the pain.”
My Working Bones gives voice to the pain of the pandemic in a song about food workers facing death and trauma doing their bit through the pandemic by staying on the job. The inspiration was a quotation from workers that Harris found: “When we’re dead and buried our bones will still hurt every day.”
But within all this harsh reality, the album never descends into hopelessness or melancholy. Far from it – there’s an upbeat feel to Harris’s singing, the arrangement of the songs and, where appropriate, to the lyrics. On Solid Ground finishes with the line “And we’ll sing “We Shall Overcome” and go on our way!”
There’s a cool, jazzy version of the Beatles’ All You Need Is Love, which again sends a hopeful message. Joshuah Campbell’s Sing Out/March On, composed in honour of Senator John Lewis, to which Harris has mixed in the spiritual “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round,” is done acapella the style of 1940’s & 50’s gospel quartets, with some terrific harmonies, and exudes positivity and the potential for change.
Harrris has included a John Prine song, Hello in There, John Prine having died during the pandemic. It’s done simply, mostly Harris and strummed acoustic guitar, and serves as a nice tribute.
The album finishes with Malvina Reynolds’s It Isn’t Nice from 1964, which counts the cost of freedom – which sometimes involves protest, banners, sit-ins, going to jail. With Harris’s update to the song with a verse about George Floyd, the lyrics are bang up-to-date and the message is clear: “Well, if that is freedom’s price, then we don’t mind.” Once again, the almost jaunty musical setting belies the serious nature of the lyrics.
Well produced, with a nice mixture of folk, jazz and blues, Reggie Harris educates, challenges and entertains.