Musselwhite - Continental Drifter
Amongst the masters of blues harmonica we have the two Sonny Boy
Williamsons, Little Walter, Sonny Terry and Big Walter Horton. Just below them there is,
amongst others Charlie Musselwhite.
Charlie Musselwhite is a remarkable harp player who started his carrier in
the 60s. At the time he and Paul Butterfield competed over the same turf (in a
friendly way of course). The common thing between these two was that they were the first
whites to hang out in the black ghetto of the Chicago southside and they both traveled on
from the black tradition of blues and added their own personal touch to it. Paul
Butterfield died a few years back. Musselwhite is still alive and kicking. He has this
drive to always push further, to go beyond his onw limits and to avoid the blues. .
His latest album "Continental Drifter" is a mix of blues and
cuban music. The kind of stuff you can easily listen to when it's real hot outside, with a
cocktail in your hand, eother lying on a hamac or dancing with a pretty girl (or boy).
Some might say that Latino is fashionable, but wuth Charlie it isn't just a fad : listen
to his first album "Stand Back" and you'll hear the signs there already.
Musselwhite knows his harps, diatonic or chromatic. He's got his sound,
his attacks, his phrasing, and that makes his playing instantly recognisable. He's at ease
on rootsy Delta bLues (he also plays acoustic guitar), on Chicago stuff, or swing. And
he's always got a nice little ballad lying in his pocket. Listen to this album and I'm
pretty sure that like me you'll be seduced. All the more so because his collaboration with
Eliades Ochoa and his Carteto Patria creates an unusual osmosis between blues and cuban.
You realise listening to it that blues can have many aspects and go beyong its frontiers.
And that's just Charlie's point. This collaboration also manages to let one of Charlie's
weaknesses fade out a bit : his voice. He is a good guitarist and an amazing harp player,
but only an average singer, and then only because he believes in what he's singing.
That being said, "Continental Drifter" still ranks in my
personal Top 5 of Charlie's huge discography (16 albums if memory serves me correctly),
alongside "Ace of Harps". It deserves to be part of any harmonica record
collection, blues record collection or just good music record collection.