Charlie Musselwhite

Charlie Musselwhite
Delta Hardware

Real World 58547

By Karen Nugent
July 2006

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Charlie Musselwhite is back, in a more socially conscious—and less liquor-fueled—way. I saw him at the Regatta Bar in June, one of the stops on a tour promoting this new album, and was immediately struck by the pleasant change in his manner.

The last time I saw Musselwhite, in the 1970s, he fell off a bar stool in a drunken stupor between sets. This, after snarling at some well-wishers to “go tell somebody who gives a shit.”

Apparently, he won the battle with alcohol in the late 1980s—along the way recording dozens of albums, and winning 18 W.C. Handy awards. I’m happy to report that the personality change did not dampen the musical prowess.

While his new album, Delta Hardware, has his instantly recognizable gritty edge, Musselwhite has managed to successfully fuse elements of Southern rock, country blues, and good old John Lee Hooker, Little Walter, and Muddy Waters inspired Chicago classics.

And I’m also pleased to say that the harp playing is as great as ever.

The 10-song album of mainly original tunes is backed by his touring band of guitarist Kid Andersen, bassist Randy Bermudes, and drummer June Core. The record offers something fresh, yet Musselwhite’s Chicago roots, and unpolished edge, come through.

Two originals, “Black Water” and “Invisible Ones” were inspired by the devastation Hurricane Katrina caused in Louisiana, and in Musselwhite’s home state of Mississippi. “Black Water,” a reference to the contaminated, standing water left in New Orleans’ poorest neighborhoods after the floods, suggests that the filth lapping at America’s back door is only beginning. One of the highlights of the song is the extended instrumental refrain, led by Andersen’s moody guitar.

“Invisible Ones,” also about hurricane victims, and society’s tendency to ignore them, has a distinctly Hooker theme, as well as the Boogie Man’s famous beat.

At the other end of the spectrum is the first cut, “Church Is Out,” a Dire Straits-reminiscent party tune if there ever was one.

“Clarksdale Boogie” is a classic gem, with sampled crowd noise from Red’s juke joint in Clarksdale, Miss. But Musselwhite adds a jumping bass-and-drums riff that harkens back to early Mississippi fife-and-drum blues.

Musselwhite does a fabulous job on Little Walter’s “Just a Feeling,” wailing away on harp like the master himself; and “Sundown” offers the glum sentiment that it’s “sundown in another hard luck town.”

But it sure sounds great.

Musselwhite growls, stomps, shouts, and blows a mean harp throughout the album, which also includes “Gone Too Long,” “One of These Mornings,” and “Blues for Yesterday.”

It’s good to have him back.

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