Charlie Musselwhite – Mississippi Son
Charlie Musselwhite has given us a gift. The prolific, always exceptional, Blueman delivers in his newest release, Mississippi Son, a personal and intimate dose of raw unadulterated Country Blues from his native Mississippi. Playing guitar, harp and singing, often unaccompanied, Musselwhite’s gift to us in his 79th year is a direct line to the Blues that has been at the heart of his varied and eclectic life in music.
Charlie Musselwhite is one of the leaders of the 2nd wave of Blues popularity in the 60’s and 70’s. After Blues became a national sensation with artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry setting fire to young people’s minds, artists like Buddy Guy, Etta James, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Magic Sam, John Primer and Musselwhite took up the Chicago Blues specifically and inhabited the expanded horizons of the hippie movement and the counterculture.
Musselwhite, with his perma-shit-eating-grin, has always exuded a bad boy cool. His often rough and tumble music reflected his younger days as a moonshine runner and day laborer in Memphis. But, Musselwhite has always deeply engaged his artistic soul, consistently producing exceptional and searching music and leading an endless string of killer bands. Mixing in Country Western, R&B, Ragtime, Jazz and even a little Rock, Musselwhite has always kept in the center his facile harp playing, his smooth and emotive voice and his commitment to real deal Blues.
Having recently moved back to Mississippi from his longtime California residency, Musselwhite follows up a string of collaborative projects with Ben Harper and most recently the triumphant duet album with Elvin Bishop, with this personal homecoming album. Mississippi Son features 8 original Blues standing tall next to choice covers of John Lee Hooker, Charlie Patton, the Country legends the Stanley Brothers and surprisingly the late great Austin, TX singer/songwriter Guy Clark. Occasional support is offered by Ricky “Quicksand” Martin on drums and Barry Bays on acoustic standup bass, with understated complimentary accompaniment.
The revelation of Mississippi Son is Charlie Musselwhite the Country Blues guitarist. A renowned harmonica master, Musselwhite started his musical journey as a child with the guitar and has occasionally bent the six strings on previous records. However, Mississippi Son features Musselwhite fully realizing his solo Bluesman muse. Playing with the kind of deeply rhythmic and often raw emotive power of John Lee Hooker and mentor Big Joe Williams (whom he pays tribute to here with an instrumental played on one of Williams’ old guitars), Musselwhite draws in the listener with his pitch perfect performances and expertly idiosyncratic playing.
Musselwhite has always let his Mississippi and Memphis roots shine through his singing. Here the smooth deep golden baritone of his voice perfectly buttresses the effortless phrasing and road worn rasp of his mature singing. Songs like the solo performance of the original slow Blues drag “In Your Darkest Hour” is devastating. Singing with a near whisper “in your lonely room, in your darkest hour, honey call on me,” Musselwhite conveys both exhaustion and strength. The spoken word Guy Clark poem “The Dark,” is given the Blues stamp. Musselwhite simply deploys his speaking voice and perfectly conveys the menace and protection that Clark was so exactingly describing.
Musselwhite demonstrates his genius as a Bluesman throughout this moving album. But, on the original album opener “Blues Up the River,” Musselwhite truly shows his mastery of the form. Supported by Martin and Bays, Musselwhite snakes his electric guitar and harp work through a song that is deceptively simple. Describing how his blues up the river “flow down to the gulf” he’s gonna “drink muddy water till I’ve had enough.” Musselwhite celebrates the Delta while also acknowledging the mud and dirt that comes with it. This song sets the stage for what is to come while firmly rooting the affection and connection Musselwhite feels to the land, to the region of his birth.
Charlie Musselwhite clearly has nothing to prove. He has released over 40 albums and is a living legend. He is a Grammy winner and has played with most of the significant musical icons of the past 50 years. Instead of simply repeating what works, Musselwhite is a searcher. He finds new collaborators, he stays on the road to keep testifying to the Blues, and he makes a record like Mississippi Son. This album is daring in its simplicity. It is moving in its expressiveness. And it’s endlessly entertaining. Thanks for the gift Charlie.