Elvin Bishop & Charlie Musselwhite – 100 Years Of Blues
12 Tracks – 52 minutes
Truth be told, Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite have more than 110 years of experience playing the blues. Both veterans have had extensive careers that have had more than a few historic moments. Both have already earned spots in the Blues Hall Of Fame in Memphis, sponsored by the Blues Foundation.
Bishop’s fame began to build as a founding member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. During his long solo career, he has released a number of highly regarded albums that featured his striking original songs, attaining hit record status with “Fooled Around And Fell In Love.” Musselwhite has received 22 Blues Music Award nominations for his harmonica playing alone, not to mention an equal of nominations in other categories, many recognizing his recorded work over the past 30 years.
This recording takes both musicians back to the early days of their careers, scuffling around Chicago clubs in the 1960s, learning from the legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson II. The stripped down sound is captured perfectly by Kid Andersen at his amazing Greaseland Studios. As producer and recording engineer in addition to mixing and mastering the material, Andersen once again works his magic in creating a soundscape that highlights the personalities of both men along with the feel of a late night session in a rowdy blues club on a Saturday night.
Andersen also contributes on bass guitar on four cuts, including the opener, “Birds Of A Feather.” a Bishop original that finds him encouraging listeners to get loose over a propulsive groove, with help from frequent Bishop collaborator Bob Welsh on guitar, a role he fills on seven tracks. The multi-talented Welsh also adds his noteworthy piano skills on the remaining five tunes, laying down some Otis Spann inspired playing behind Musselwhite’s weathered vocal that takes “Good Times” to a place far darker than the the title’s promise.
The format is simple – the lead switches back and forth from track to track. Bishop updates one of his songs on “What the Hell?,” pondering our current inability to get along as Musselwhite answers with some of his trademark harp blowing. The mood brightens considerably, with Bishop’s sense of humor on full display, on “Old School,” a cut from a prior Alligator release. Perhaps Bishop’s finest moment occurs on a cover of Leroy Carr’s “Midnight Hour Blues,” a dark, brooding slow blues. Musselwhite’s mournful harp cries echo the depths of despair in the guitarist’s measured vocal. The instrumental “South Side Slide” is a musical conversation between the three men, with Bishop on slide guitar.
When his turn comes around, Musselwhite also shows that the passage of time has not diminished his skills. His powerful voice captures your attention on “West Helena Blues,” a Roosevelt Sykes original with more fine piano emanating from Welsh’s fingertips. Equally strong is the driving take of “If I Should Have Bad Luck,” the two guitarists making sure Musselwhite has a solid foundation behind him, showing his appreciation with some upper register Jimmy Reed-style harp playing. The original “Blues For Yesterday” finds the harp player pondering his life, thankful the experiences while voicing awareness that the journey might soon be coming to an end.
The men co-wrote the closing title track, built around Bishop’s tense guitar work. They take listeners back to the old days one more time, sharing the vocal lead, then setting up an intimate instrumental dialogue that epitomizes the proper way to play in the electric Chicago blues tradition.
Nominated for 2021 Blues Music Awards for Traditional Blues Album and Album Of The Year, this release certainly is one of the highlights of last year. If you have missed this one, make sure you rectify that omission quickly, as this one is indeed highly recommended!