On the cover of Downhome Sophisticate, singer/songwriter/guitarist Corey Harris is perched on a horse with a top hat cocked on his head, giving the listener a hint that he is riding out of the tradition of Taj Mahal with the music inside. As on previous Harris recordings, there are snippets of ambient talk and a touch of rap, but basically this is a hard-driving R&B recording that recalls Mahal’s ‘70s work. The title cut sounds like a party at Harris’s house with the crowd humming, growling, and grooving behind him and a lean band. “Sista Rose” takes a turn toward the Caribbean, with Harris’s lyrics giving a countrified lesson on abstinence. Continuing in the island vein is “Black Maria,” a tune about Mother Africa, not the police cars. However “Santoro” is about racist cops with quick triggers. The most lively number, “Frankie Doris,” is spiked with horns and more humming, but the message is about reparations for slavery and how the bourgeois Ms. Doris will take a fall when African Americans “sue the lawyers and the government” for their piece of the American pie. Another raucous number, “Money on My Mind,” has the drone of manual work to match the theme. Putting the balm on these heavy thoughts is the acoustic instrumental “Capitaine” and the traditional “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning,” on which Harris plays bright and righteous slide guitar. Neither the themes of struggle and oppression nor the revved-up roots sounds are new to Harris. He is on a path to bring blues into the present while maintaining the music’s African-American heritage, and Downhome Sophisticate is yet another stop on his journey.