Corey Harris and Henry Butler

To be a truly great blues duo, collaborators must go beyond putting out anything that could've been done solo. Two teams that have pulled this off are Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. Vü-dü menz, the first combined effort of 31-year-old acoustic guitarist Corey Harris and 51-year-old New Orleans piano thumper Henry Butler, is a successful collaboration. Though both artists are critically acclaimed singer-songwriters (particularly Harris), they achieve a greatness here, and exude a comfort level that belies the short time of their association. Simply put, this record cooks.

Composed of 15 tracks, Vü-dü menz is lean; its strength lies in its use of various genres. You got Louisiana funk ("Let 'Em Roll," "Down Home Livin'"), raucous Cajun ("Sugar Daddy," "If You Let a Man Kick You Once"), gospel ("Why Don't You Live So God Can Use You?") and 78-rpm-flavored laments you might think came from a Lomax family field recording ("King Cotton," "Song of the Pipelayer" -- and he ain't talkin' about plumbing in that last one). Both men get plenty of room to perform, but a couple of prime cuts are focused on one player. Butler owns the deep, soulful and utterly commanding "There's No Substitute for Love," and Harris controls the raspy "Mulberry Row." Backed by Butler's barrelhouse piano style, the latter will probably go down as the only blues song ever written about a certain infamous 18th-century sex scandal involving a U.S. president with a taste for brown sugar. ("Master Tom always gettin' what he needs / Every time he sees Miss Sal-ly.") Put that in the congressional record.

Recorded in Louisiana in only four days, Vü-dü menz seems to grow richer with each spin, helping the listener to appreciate the spirit of collaboration, from the obvious, like call-and-response vocals, to the simple melodies. While Harris's previous solo effort, Greens from the Garden, often seemed moored in place, this disc finds him exploring many different fields with his trusted new two-fisted guide.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero