Charlie Musselwhite has blues credibility like no one else on the face of the planet. He’s played harmonica and guitar and sung with the greatest bluesmen in the world for many decades now; his harp sound is so iconic that it’s immediately associated with authenticity, which is why bands like INXS keep hiring him for guest spots; for god’s sake, John Lee Hooker was the best man at his wedding.
But you don’t need to know all this stuff, you just need to hear this record, which contains some of the best blues tracks of the year. His voice isn’t maybe what it once was, but it doesn’t matter the way he belts out “Well now, you think that you love me / You just love my lonesome sound” (on “One of These Mornings”). His harmonica has lost absolutely none of its bite; the ridiculously nimble old-school solo on “Blues for Yesterday” sits very nicely alongside the muscular wailing on the rocked-up “Church Is Out.”
It’s not your stereotypical-sounding blues album, either. There is a pleasant sonic weirdness here courtesy of producer Chris Goldsmith, odd echoes and intimately-miked instruments and all the crispness that blues albums usually eschew. Chris “Kid” Andersen’s guitar is right up in the ear canals on “Clarksdale Boogie,” searing and nibbling and guiding the great rhythm section of June Core on drums and Randy Bermudes on bass.
And when the ambient spooky sounds come in on “Black Water,” it’s a sign that we are meant to pay careful attention to what he’s saying. Musselwhite is angry about the way the government responded to Hurricane Katrina, and to the underclass in general, and he isn’t afraid to say so: “Pools of black water in a poor man’s shoes / Poor people payin’ rich folks’ dues / Black water is the sign of our time”. This point is made even more politically on “Invisible Ones,” a more straight-ahead boogie track (great work by Andersen here) with a more straight-ahead message: “You don’t see us, you don’t even try / Our children are hungry, you don’t hear ‘em cry / Cause we are the invisible ones / The invisible ones you’d let die”.
So let’s recap: a great blues album by a classic blues veteran, but it doesn’t sound old-fogeyish in the least, actually very avant-gardish at times, and the playing is tight and crisp, and radical politics accompanied by awesome solos. Uh, hell yeah.
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// Notes from the Road
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