The veteran Charlie Musselwhite has returned to Alligator Records for his new CD, “The Well.” A career that on record dates back to the mid-sixties, Musselwhite continues to produce strong blues. On this session he brings his harp (and guitar on two tracks) to a session with guitarist Dave Gonzales; bassist John Bazz; and drummer Stephen Hodges with Mavis Staples joining for one track. All the songs are self-penned by Musselwhite (one with Zoe Wood) drawing on his personal experiences in many cases.
The opening “Rambler’s Blues,” with its adaptation of the “Catfish Blues” melody, finds him delivering a lyric of rambling down his dark and dreary road. The perfomance has a nice harp break complementing the directness of the vocal. “Dig The Pain” is a nice shuffle that was generated from the days of heavy drinking and how he would dig the pain to get through it as he transfers the thought to a woman who he just can’t leave. Gonzales contributes a fine solo (playing with little distortion) with a fine solo from Musselwhite. “The Well” also takes a familiar blues melody to which Musselwhite recalls little Jessica McClure and how brave she was after falling into a Texas well and how Musselwhite said a prayer for her and gave up drinking to show some bravery himself and just like she was rescued and he came out a better man.
“Where Highway 61 Runs,” set against a Magic Sam-based groove, finds him remembering about the delta and how blues has been his comforter. “Sad and Beautiful World“ with Mavis Staples joining the vocals, is a moving song where he says some of things he wanted to when his mother was murdered with a fine harp break. “Sonny Payne Special” is a strong instrumental feature dedicated to the legendary King Biscuit Time radio show host. “Good Times” has Musselwhite on guitar as he recalls the days of youthful partying as he asks where did our good times go with nice slide guitar and effective spare backing. “Cadillac Woman” has Musselwhite’s thoughts about women who run over their men, while he delivers a spoken vocal with his ruminations on Marie Laveau and hoodoo Doctor John on the atmospheric “Hoodoo Queen.” “Cook County Blues” has a country flavor as Musselwhite recalls a time he was busted by a lying cop and spent time in Cook County jail. “Clarksdale Getaway” is a terrific instrumental where Musselwhite’s tone and solo evoke Big Walter.
His vocals may not be as robust as in his youth but they reflect his experiences more and his songwriting has matured. Wisdom has replaced the brashness of his vocals of his youth while Charlie Musselwhite’s songs reflect a life well-lived and all the pains and joys that has entailed. His harp playing remains strong and inventive. “The Well” may be Musselwhite’s best recording in years.
For FTC purposes, Alligator Records provided the writer with a review copy.