Charlie Musselwhite - Rough News
(Pointblank Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

Story by Tony Bonyata

"You don't have to be cold and hungry to know the blues", claims harmonica legend, Charlie Musselwhite.
Born in a small Mississippi town in 1944, Musselwhite moved, with his family, to Memphis in 1947. It was there that he learned how to play the blues from the street musicians that he followed. He gained a sense of professionalism from befriending local bluesmen Will Shade, Furry Lewis, Gus Cannon among others in the '50's. In the early '60's Musselwhite worked wherever he could find it, including such jobs as factory delivery, construction and even running moonshine. At age 18, when he moved to blues-mecca Chicago, he began hanging out in the blues bars which led to sitting in with legends Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jimmy Reed, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells.
In 1966, Musselwhite recorded his first solo album, Stand Back. The success of that album led to a booking at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco along with Cream and Paul Butterfield.
Musselwhite has been in the Bay area ever since then and claims, with a slight sense of accomplishment, that he has been clean and sober since 1987.
"When I hear the emotion (of the blues), I can't help but recognize it's power", Musselwhite says, and judging from his 17th, and latest, solo album, Rough News, he doesn't have any trouble translating that power and raw emotion through his music.
On the roaring Chicago-styled blues numbers "Both Sides of the Fence" and "Rough Dried Woman" Musselwhite shows off his harmonica virtuosity as well as his moonshine-soaked vocals, especially on the latter song. He revisits his southern roots in the Delta-blues inspired songs, "Darkest Hour", "Rainy Highways" and the self- penned "Clarksdale Boogie."
While, unlike jazz or rock, the blues never stray too far from their traditional roots, Musselwhite pushes the barriers somewhat on the Brazilian-flavored "Feel It In Your Heart" by wedding Latin rhythms with Southern blues. He also steps over the blues side of the fence into the world of jazz on the laid-back title track "Rough News", adding a fresh twist to this smooth martini-and-cigars sound with his soulful lead harmonica. The song also features a great "I-meant-to-do-that" off-time guitar solo from Fenton Robinson as well as improvised keyboard, bass and drum solos.
"In today's world, the blues is kind of an antidote to all the computers and things all around us", Musselwhite states. "It doesn't matter where you live or what kind of a background you come from, when you hear the blues, it reminds you that you are human and it hooks you forever."
So turn off your TV or computer, run down to your local music store, pick up a copy of Rough News and get hooked...and, oh yeah, tell 'em Charlie sent 'ya.

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