Musselwhite Finds Sanctuary In Music
A true legend of the blues idiom, harmonica monster Charlie Musselwhite returns
with Sanctuary (Real World Records). Bringing a rough, uneasy feeling
back to blues-rock, Musselwhite also dabbles in folk, Southern boogie, and with
the help of the Blind Boys of Alabama, gospel.
In a recent telephone
interview, Musselwhite explained why Sanctuary might come across to some
listeners as a heavy collection of serious-minded, haunted tunes. I think
these are dark and edgy times, he said. The same way that the blues
is like a comforter for somebody going through hard times, I had hoped that
the listener would find this album to be like a refuge or sanctuary from
the dark times that were in now.
For Musselwhite, music has always had the power to heal. Music is a great
way to touch people, he said. Even if youre in another country
where you dont understand the language, it will still resonate with you.
Growing up in Mississippi, and later in Memphis, Musselwhite was always surrounded
by music. Blues was just part of my environment, he said, I
remember as a kid hearing people singing in the field working. And there was
blues on the radio. There were street singers around Memphis I would hear singing
blues, playing guitar or harp.
Being exposed to so much music, it was only natural for Musselwhite to start
playing it himself; and, for a boy in the South, harmonicas practically grew
on trees. It was a common toy. In the South, just about everybody had
a harmonica - youd get them as a stocking stuffer.
At the time, music seemed to be nothing more than a hobby for the future W.C.
Handy Award-winner. I never had a plan to be professional, that was the
furthest thing in my mind, Musselwhite said. If you wouldve
told me that I was going to be a professional, I wouldve laughed at you.
Twenty-something albums later, Musselwhite is as formidable a musician as ever,
and his Sanctuary band has some equally heavy hitters in it. The rhythm
section features the stellar work of drummer Michael Jerome (Pleasure Club)
and bassist Jared Nickerson (The The). The ace up Musselwhites sleeve,
however, is guitarist Charlie Sexton.
The two Charlies met at a benefit concert arranged by Tom Waits. Every
now and then, said Musslewhite, youll meet somebody and its
like youre instant friends, almost like you know each other from sometime
before. Thats kind of how it was with me and Charlie. Sextons
playing adds a hard edge to such numbers as Homeless Child and the
instrumental Shadow People.
The cover of Ben Harpers Homeless Child includes an appearance
by the singer. After playing together on John Lee Hookers all-star album
The Best of Friends, Musselwhite and Harper hit it off. We
just clicked in the studio so well, Musselwhite revealed, every
time wed see each other after that we say Man, we gotta get back
in the studio together.
The Blind Boys of Alabama add layers to the gospel-boogie of Train to
Nowhere. I had known their music before I ever met them, said
Musselwhite. Then we met, became friends, and I toured with them. I thought
they were just the perfect, natural pick for the feel of this album.
In the end, however, all of the guest stars and talented musicians on Sanctuary
are just icing on the cake. As revealed on the albums haunting instrumental
Route 19, Musselwhite proves he can captivate listeners with nothing
more than a harmonica and a soulful blues tune.