Online since August 2002

A growing charm

Reviewed November 2010

The Well
The Well
By Charlie Musselwhite

Alligator Records: 2010

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Charlie Musselwhite is showing ever more economy in his harmonica playing and singing as he moves through his 60s, and yet his music not only retains the sparkle of his younger days but now holds a wisdom that only adds to its charm.

Never what you might call a smooth singer (think Willie Nelson tackling the blues), Musselwhite's vocal range is noticeably shrunken from just his last recording, 2006's "Delta Hardware." But he takes full advantage of the warm tonalities and inflections still available to him, and if some of his vocals are more spoken than sung there's such an avuncular charm you can't help but be pulled into the magic of the moment.

Musselwhite's harp playing doesn't always have the youthful abandon of earlier outings (except on the uptempo "Sonny Payne Special" where he channels his 25-year-old self), but as they used to say of Count Basie's spare approach to piano, he plays all the right notes. The diatonic harp is an underappreciated instrument outside the blues, but with a half-century under his belt, Musselwhite's command of the instrument is absolute and his rich overtones and technical prowess make the guitar-and-harp showdown on "Sonny Payne Special" a delight.

Adding to that delight is that ex-Paladin Dave Gonzalez (misspelled on the liner notes, but confirmed via a label spokesman) is the guitarist on this session. Sounding nothing like he did in the Paladins, Hacienda Brothers or his current outfit, the Stone River Boys, Gonzalez is jazzier that what we're used to – in a vein like the late Fenton Robinson.

With a nice collection of songs to showcase his talents and a solid backing band (John Bazz on bass, Stephen Hodges on drums), Musselwhite shows that if the years have changed his physical abilities they haven't thinned his creative juices.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).

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