Over 45 years ago a young Charlie Musselwhite recorded his first album for Vanguard Records. His career that has found him become an elder statesman of the Chicago styled blues which has found him playing with so many legends of the music, exploring Brazilian music (and incorporating aspects of such music in his own) as well as leave a legacy of over twenty albums. His latest album is Juke Joint Chapel on his own Henrietta Records label. This was recorded at The Shack Up Inn, on Highway 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi and had him with a band including guitarist Matt Stubbs, bassist Mike Phillips and drummer June Core (an alumnus of the late Robert Lockwood Jr’s Band).
Its a fine band that plays with a rootsy, idiomatic approach. June Core’s drumming is particularly noteworthy, but it is Musselwhite himself who sings and plays with a vigor that has not been apparent on some of his recent recordings. On those his vocals conveyed a sense of world-weariness to some extent and his harp playing was somewhat more evocative of the second Sonny Boy Williamson. Here his vocals are a bit more direct and his harp playing has a bot harder sound. This is apparent in the opening rendition of Eddie Taylor’s Bad Boy, as well as his reprisal of Shakey Jake’s Roll Your Money Maker, with Stubbs evoking Magic Sam’s guitar playing and Phillips providing a backing vocal.
There is a strong cover of Little Walter’s It Ain’t Right, that brings back memories of Musselwhite's forty year old albums on Arhoolie, and his Blues Overtook Me as he sings about how the blues took over when he was a child. Another Musselwhite original, Strange Land, has a lyric about getting lost and having to find his way set against a rocking Catfish Blues groove. Stubbs crisp, trebly playing is quite effective, and Core again displays his ability to push the groove and add interesting accents in a manner few blues drummers do today. Another choice original is Feel It in Your Heart where he takes us on his journey to Brazil as he celebrate show music can bring us together with a driving groove that has a Brazilian accent.
The album closes with Duke Pearson’s Cristo Redentor, originally recorded by Donald Byrd and covered by Musselwhite on his debut album. It remains a showpiece for him and his nuanced playing evidences not simply his virtuosity, but his good taste. The location recording quality is fine so that Musselwhite and his fine band sound almost like this was a studio recording. The result, Juke Joint Chapel, may be one of Musselwhite’s finest recordings in some time.
I received my review copy from a publicist for the release. It is available from cdbaby.com and Charlie's website, http://www.charliemusselwhite.com. Here Charlie performs Blues Overtook Me.