Charlie's Worldly Blues

Charlie Musselwhite - Continental Drifter
(Pointblank Records)
3 stars (out of 5 stars)

Story by Tony Bonyata

A lot of people think the blues is just a music with 12 bars and 3 chords that comes from Mississippi or Chicago, but don't tell that to San Francisco-based bluesman and harmonica extraordinaire Charlie Musselwhite. To him the blues is a feeling - any music with feeling. And it can come from any country or culture.
Growing up in Mississippi and Tennessee Musselwhite was heavily influenced by the rich musical landscape of blues, gospel and hillbilly music. It was the weight of these different styles, especially the blues, that he built his career on, which began with the release of his 1966 debut Stand Back!.
Musselwhite has sat in with the best of bluesmen, including Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter and Big Joe Williams. Their influence on him has been evident throughout his numerous albums and collaborations throughout the last thirty years. But it's not until the last couple of years that he's found a new way to interpret the blues.
As a musician touring throughout the world Musselwhite has soaked in many other cultures and has fused them into his own blues, creating an often engaging twist on an age old familiar music.
On his latest album, Continental Drifter, Musselwhite reflects on three distinctly different sides to his music . Songs such as "Blues Up The River" and "Please Remember Me" represent the haunting raw acoustic Delta-styled blues that fueled his fire as a youth. The more electrified, rousing Chicago-styled blues that has dominated his music through his career shows that he's still got his mojo workin' on the snappy R&B numbers "No" and "Can't Stay Away From You" with it's saucy "Tequila"-esque rhythm, as well as the smoking electric guitar and Musselwhite's breathy mouth harp on "Voodoo Garden". And representing some of his more recent world influences Musselwhite delivers an interesting blend of Cuban and Brazilian rhythms and melodies with his own style of urban blues on the engaging ""Que Te Parece, Cholita?", "Sabrosa", as well as the Latin spiced instrumentals "Siboney" and "Little Star" with it's airy Brazilian jazz undertones.
Although Musselwhite's gruff voice comes off like somebody's uncle at a family function doing a Johnny Cash impersonation after a few beers, it's his harmonica that steals the show. With a laid-back, soul-dripping approach Charlie forgoes the flashy technic of many-a-bluesman and instead lays down some of he most heartfelt, yet subdued harp playing either side of the Mississippi.
While Charlie's blues roots still run dirt deep on Continental Drifter he manages to branch out with a more worldly Latin sound, providing a sweeter fruit for his audience.

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