Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite Get Up!

Much has already been written about the excellent new album Get Up! from Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite. But enough good cannot be said, so I'm gonna chime in too, since I'm listening to it right now, tripping out at how damn good it is.

Harper and Musselwhite met through John Lee Hooker, and that's about as legit as anyone can get. Both were impressed with each other, a friendship was formed, and after a decade or so of talking about it, this album has clearly cemented their brotherhood.

From the opening track, "Don't Look Twice" to the last tremble of  "All That Matters Now", you feel as if you've invited to join Ben and Charlie right next to them on the front porch as they play the day away. The sun shines, turns to dark clouds, pours down rain, and the skies clear again ... on almost every song. The REAL Blues, from two REAL masters of their craft.

This thing is real serious, even when it's fun, because these cats straight MEAN it. "I'm In I'm Out And I'm Gone" is swampy, old school blues that builds to a sweaty in the bar, shaking your hair back and forth, music elation crescendo, the kind that leaves you feeling dirty - in a good way. It sounds like you're there in the room with them, but you time traveled back to THE DAY to be there listening. Musselwhite really shines on his solo here, oozing the wisdom of decades, and Harper shows that all that listening and schooling has rubbed off on him. Harper sings, You gotta answer to somebody ... but it's evident that these two really only need to answer to themselves at this stage of the game.

"We Can't End This Way" is lyrically kind of sad and poignant, but the upbeat hand claps, gorgeous lady back-up voices, and the feeling that there is hope after all permeates the entire gospel-soaked song, helping to melt those blues away. Harper's slide guitar solo is soso good too, that you know you'll be fine, even if just because you heard that. Love it.

There's a bit of a switcheroo on "I Don't Believe A Word You Say" as this one is hard ROCKING, and feels more like Harper rubbing off on Musselwhite this time. They're bridging ages, they're bridging genres ... all the while making both sound passionately fresh. The lyrics on this one are repetitive (pretty much just I don't believe a word you say ...) but when there's playing going on that's this good, the point is made, no question. Heavy.

Harper's regular band, The Relentless 7, (Jason Mozersky, Jordan Richardson, and Jesse Ingalls) backs them up the whole way, as tightly as can be. "You Found Another Lover (I Lost Another Friend)" is truly the blues, quietly accepting the painful truth, but showing that even pain can be pretty. It brings it all down a sonic notch here, but you kind of need it, just like in life sometimes.

Dedicated to Navy Seal, Nicholas P. Spehar, "I Ride At Dawn" is both a history lesson and a tale of anti-war disillusionment, met with chin up defiant ferocity. Harper's jangly spaghetti western guitar strings meet Musselwhite's late-night/early morning by the campfire harp to tell the world just what exactly is what. Damn straight and tough. Guys will love this song. So will film music supervisors, as the music is so highly visual. And it's smart, its lyrics even containing a reference to Sheberghan - Afghanistan. Badasses.

"Blood Side Out" is back to rocking out hard, amped up and yelling, while the title track, "Get Up!" brings you back to the sweaty blues bar, nodding and pounding your fist on the table in agreement.
There is a 50's Bop rock doo wop thing going on in "She Got Kick", adding to the overall effect that this is an album that is pure and timeless. You'd believe it was recorded in just about any of the last few decades, and it's extra inspiring, educational, even, to hear Harper and Musselwhite trade and share the lessons they've learned from their whole lives in the very NOW.

"All That Matters Now" is my favorite track, I think, and that's probably because it's gorgeous, and I'm a girl. It's both men at their very best, even with a case of the true blues. You're in the room. You hear the strums, the thumps, and the breaths.  Slow, sweet, sensual ... it feels like a slow dance at the end of the night, in that closing bar we walked into when it was still light out. You can hear Musselwhite laughing with pleasure as they play, and that's what you'll do as you listen.

Harper has a song called "Lay There And Hate Me" that has a lyric that goes, Never trust a woman who loves the blues ... that came to mind as I listened to Get Up! I'd like to think you can still trust me, but I do, I LOVE the blues, especially as thrown down by Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite on this epiphany of a record.

Get Up! -  and Get it.

Get Up! is out today on the extra dope Stax Record Label.

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