Sunday, September 26, 2010

"The Well" - Charlie Musselwhite (Alligator Records)

By Malcolm Kennedy
The Well

One could scarcely have a conversation about blues harmonica players without mentioning the paragon of Charlie Musselwhite. With well over 40 years of playing and living the blues and somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 albums released, Charlie has become a living blues harp legend in his own right. From playing on the streets in Memphis to his days in Chicago's South Side clubs and his debut album back in 1967, Charlie's distinctive harp tone has been a fixture of the blues world. The Well marks Musselwhite's triumphant return to Alligator Records (he had 3 albums with the Gator in the early '90s including the highly acclaimed Ace of Harps.) Charlie moved to Chicago to try to find better paying work in a factory job and ended up with a driving job and in a way has been on the road ever since.

With the opening bars, Charlie's marvelous harp informs you that The Well is yet another fine offering by one of the true masters of the genre. I really enjoy the whole album; but several cuts still did stand out. Charlie plays mournful slide guitar on "Good Time" asking, 'won't somebody tell me where did all our good times go? I'd like to hear all about it if you think you know.' On "Sad and Beautiful World" Mavis Staples adds her soulful vocals mirroring Charlie's, as opposed to a duet with harmonies or call and response as is more common. Her vocals are just a touch behind his in the mix making for some interesting nuances. "Sonny Payne Special" is a storming harp fueled instrumental of the first order. On "Where Hwy 61 Runs," Charlie sings about the Delta region in Mississippi singing 'it runs from my back door down to the settin' sun.'

Although Charlie spent his first years growing up in the Hill Country before his family moved to Memphis when he was still a young child, he frequently went down to the Delta where his mother was from. It is a place that holds many memories for Charlie both old and new as he still has friends and relatives and a second home in Clarksdale. This brings up "Clarksdale Getaway," a flowing instrumental piece for harp and blues combo that I particularly enjoyed. It makes an excellent tune to turn up the volume, lay back and just let the music wash over you. I find I keep coming back to "Just You, Just Blues" with its infectious rhythm, choice touches of upper register harmonica, and deftly played ringing guitar of Dave Gonzales. Charlie is always good with a lyric too with lines like 'don't let that Cadillac women run all over you' and 'the blues is her companion and the world is her home', or 'to hot for the devil, just right for me' and 'I wish I could give you up; but you know I just dig the pain too much.' Charlie Musselwhite is a class act and there is a reason he keeps getting nominated and winning all those awards (24 BMA's, 6 Grammy nominations and many more) including his 2010 induction into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame and a trail marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail, The Well is a prime example why! Very highly recommended.

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