Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite - Get Up! Album Review
Modern Rock's most soulful voice meets blues hero to go back to basics with a charming blues collaboration.
Nostalgia is big business in music these days. Whether it is bands 'getting the old gang back together' and touring up and down the country for one last dip into their fans' pockets, Dave Grohl's Sound City movie or ITV's Big Reunion, bands and artists are constantly celebrating the past, either with pure honesty or cynical money-grabbing intentions. The question is, how far back can you go? Well, in the case of Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, you can go all the way back to what was arguably the birth of modern rock music: the blues.
The pairing of Harper and Musselwhite should not really come as much of a surprise. Over twenty odd years hovering just outside the mainstream, Harper has never been afraid of the more basic, traditional sound of the blues and his slide guitar playing is certainly up there with the best. Musselwhite on the other hand, is something of a blues harmonica legend, having been making music since the 60s. There is probably nobody of a higher pedigree than Charlie Musselwhite to accompany Ben Harper on this outing.
Nowhere on Get Up! Do Harper and Musselwhite especially break the mould, but that really is not what this record is about. It kicks off with the intimate Don't Think Twice, which has a really basic, incredibly American sound to it. You can almost imagine it being the kind of sound you might hear drifting out of Chicago blues clubs, it is that authentic. One of the first things that commands attention is the pure musicianship on display here. Musselwhite is on typically fine form and Harper's vocals are exactly as you would expect: deep, soulful and full of cool.
Elsewhere on the album these two master craftsmen really cut loose and get fired up with the raging slide guitar of I Don't Believe A Word You Say and the almost Garage rock sounds of Blood Side Out. On these tracks, the artists tease solos out, almost coaxing the other to up his game, which is thrilling to hear. Indeed, the tone of Musselwhite's electric Harp makes it sound like the Devil's own instrument.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Harper and Musselwhite bring it down to the barest of bones to similarly enticing effect. The album's title track Get Up plods along to a slow, loose and non-committal groove which really allows the lead instruments to shine. The album's biggest highlight is probably the Jack Johnson-esque You Found Another Lover. Harper's vocals soar coolly over a gentle acoustic guitar, and a harmonica which is played with a lightness of touch you rarely hear in harmonica playing.
In general, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite have delivered a strong, yet candid and fun blues album. This album really does not care that it is 2013, and why should it? Each of the ten songs contains something of merit. Both musicians involved are fairly prolific but this collection will doubtlessly shoot to the high end of the fans favourites in no time at all.
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