Some blues fans may worry that the merging of a younger star (Ben Harper) and an aging bluesman (Charlie Musselwhite) might result in just another novelty project, but an inherent nobility runs throughout this inspired work, a beguiling mix of acoustic and electric blues, with harmonica legend Musselwhite weaving in and out like a roadhouse virtuoso.
Hiding in plain sight for the better part of two decades, Ben Harper has delivered album after album of hybrid folk blues accented with slide guitar with a dash of Hendrix.
Get Up! is Harper’s first collarboration with Musselwhite, coming at a time when blues is drifting back into mainstream popularity thanks to the Black Keys and Gary Clark, Jr.
Harper rocks the blues in a refreshing change from his usual hushed affairs, creating a playground for Musselwhite’s harp to dance with Harper’s vocals.
Harper wrote or co-wrote all the songs, with lyrics that contrats delta-blues references with such modern elements as a narrative about the brother of a friend who was shot down in Afghanistan.
While he may not be the most distinctive songwriter, Harper’s true gifts shine in the details: the nuances of his guitar work, his vocal phrasing, and that intangible spirit or soul, that in my opinion, is often lacking on modern blues efforts. An awful lot of guitarists have the technique but cannot express the emotion that is blues.
Harper exhibits an original blues voice and flashes his overwhelming sense of emotion. Nearly every song touches the soul, from tracks that echo John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers to rockers that suggest a loose-jamming Cream.
While Harper has collarborated before (Blind Boys of Alabama, Fistful of Mercy), he seems to have found a kindred spirit in Musselwhite, creating an album that manages to feel timeless while being right on time.