Album Reviews

Ben Harper + Charlie Musselwhite – Get Up! (Stax/Concord)

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images“It ain’t love unless it brings you to your knees / It ain’t salvation if you’re still begging to be free.”

So sings Ben Harper with the soul and fire of a Mississippi street preacher, plucking away on an acoustic guitar and wailing to the huddled masses.

And so begins this spectacular album, which pairs this soulful chameleon with blues legend Charlie Musselwhite, whose own harmonica blasts complement one stellar groove after another.

While “Don’t Look Twice” has Harper hitting the higher notes in his register, “I’m In I’m Out and I’m Gone” has him embodying the true essence of John Lee Hooker. Overall, Get Up! does a killer job of combining sweeter, more gospel-oriented tunes (“We Can’t End This Way” being one example) with more guttural tracks steeped in the Delta, Biloxi and Sweet Home Chicago.

“I Don’t Believe a Word You Say,” with Musselwhite’s soaring notes and Harper’s Hendrix-esque delivery, recalls Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks”; it’s foot-stomping blues with a field-holler vibe.

“Blood Side Out,” arguably the album’s best tune, takes listeners deep into the heart of the swamp. You can almost feel the humidity as both musicians—backed by a dynamite crew of players—seem to kick off their shoes and party down.

Though Harper is at the forefront, he actually gets schooled by Musselwhite, the elder blues dog who’s chock-full of new mouth-harp tricks. The brooding yet infectious “I Ride at Dawn” and the album’s title track slow things down so Harper can properly testify. When he sings, “Don’t tell me I can’t break the law, ‘cause the law has broken me,” on the latter track, you’ll feel his pain but be sucked into the melody.

A blues pairing this good hasn’t occurred since Johnny Winter made Muddy Waters “hard again” back in the ’70s. Let’s pray to the Almighty that this isn’t a one-shot deal.

-Ira Kantor

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