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Raleigh readies for Artsplosure 

It should be called Adventures in Diversity. Raleigh's Artsplosure has a wide variety of musical styles on tap for its two-day stand Saturday and Sunday, May 21 and 22. Saturday, Foundation Stone (noon-1 p.m.) rolls up jazz, hip hop and reggae into one spunky spliff. They're followed by Django Haskins' latest incarnation as The Old Ceremony (1:30-2:30 p.m.), which explores the darker side of pop. David "Fathead" Newman (3-4 p.m.) is almost as well known for his R&B session work with Ray Charles and Aretha as he is his mainstream jazz. Nestor Torres'( 4:30-5:30 p.m.) pop-flavored Latin jazz helped popularize flute-fronted music.

For blues fans, the back to back booking of Marcia Ball and James Cotton is plenty of reason to congregate. Ball, who closes the show on Saturday (6-7:15 p.m.), plays a Texas/Louisiana mix of boogie-woogie that marries funky second line New Orleans with Texas roadhouse rhythms. Ball's latest, Live Down the Road, shows off her rockin' rhythms that pack clubs like New Orleans' Maple Leaf with dancers who alternate two stepping and Zydeco dancing to Ball's piano pounding.

Sunday, flamenco guitarist Miguel Pico opens (12:30-1:30 p.m.), followed by innovative local percussionist Russ Wilson and His Mighty-Mighty Men (2-3 p.m.). Enter the Haggis (3:30-4:30 p.m.) serves up Celtic funk mixed with bluegrass and rock.

For the closing set, get ready; James Cotton (5-6:15p.m.) is a communicator. He doesn't use words, but you don't have any trouble understanding what he has to say musically. At a show a couple of weeks ago in Greensboro, Cotton demonstrated why he acquired his Superharp nickname and why it still fits.

Nobody sounds like Cotton. Whooping and wailing, Cotton's harp is a raw voice from the fields. Many reeds get bent in the process as Cotton swoops and dives through the melodies, cutting a swath that few can follow. But the harpist never overplays, always choosing his spaces carefully, making his statement and getting out.

Age, throat cancer and complications from that surgery have robbed him of some of his physical abilities. He now sits down to play and no longer sings, talking only when necessary in a hoarse croak. But that doesn't affect his playing. If anything, he blows harder than ever. He's not carrying any back-up harp player this time as when he played Bull Durham four years ago. He doesn't need one. He's got a twin guitar tag team with the fastest hands and greasiest slide this side of Chicago. Guitarist Slam Allen takes care of the vocals as a B.B. King clone, but can turn up the heat on rough Cotton classics.

Expect the harpist to leaf through his full catalogue from Muddy to the present in high style. It's a great show, one that he obviously enjoys as much as his audience.

It all happens at Moore Square in downtown Raleigh and, best of all, it's free. For details and directions, go to www.artsplosure.org.

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