Online since August 2002

Let Musselwhite be himself

Reviewed May 2006

Delta Hardware
Delta Hardware
By Charlie Musselwhite

Real World / Narada Entertainment: 2006

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

Charlie Musselwhite is one of the best blues harmonica players going – and not just because he's one of the most veteran. But just as we saw happen to John Lee Hooker, to Charles Brown, and to a lesser extent now with B.B. King, we see Musselwhite being repackaged with a rock sheen to supposedly make him more palatable to a younger – or at least wider – audience.

But his new album strays so far from the blues that neither it nor Musselwhite's playing is recognizable at times. "One of These Mornings" is more alt rock than anything Delta, "Black Water" is some sort of psychedelic thing, "Just a Feeling" sounds like early heavy metal, and "Invisible Ones" has more in common with George Thorogood than anything Musselwhite has done before.

Not that stylistic range nor variety are bad things; but Musselwhite never seems at home nor comfortable here – much of the album has a forced feel to it, as if the genius of Musselwhite weren't reward enough for listeners. But re-packaging Musselwhite is a no-win proposition – his longtime blues fans are likely to be confused, young rock fans still aren't going to embrace him. And those half-chanted vocals he's reduced to using on several tracks are practically unlistenable.

And so the highlights are the blues songs that somehow snuck on: "Sundown," which opens with a scintillating harp lead from Musselwhite; "Clarksdale Boogie" (which certainly is a boogie), and the closing number, "Blues for Yesterday." Those all work great, and live the listener wishing there were more of those here.

Next time, just let Charlie Musselwhite be Charlie Musselwhite.

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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