Album: Charlie Musselwhite

Sanctuary, Realworld

Charlie Musselwhite is probably best known as one of the premier blues harmonica stylists, working primarily with John Lee Hooker, but also adding his stamp to records by Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits and, most effectively, INXS's "Suicide Blonde". The most striking thing about Sanctuary, however, is his voice; a mild, low moan that has the same haunted quality as the older voices on Tangle Eye's recent album of remixed Alan Lomax field recordings. Hardly surprising, perhaps, given that Musselwhite comes from the same Mississippi-to-Memphis poor-white stock that spawned Elvis (whose teenage parties Charlie used to attend), and subsequently followed the same route north to Chicago that was taken by many of the black Southern bluesmen before him. Sanctuary is full of moody shadows and ominous portents, both in Musselwhite's own material, such as "I Had Trouble" and "My Road Lies in Darkness", and in the judicious covers of songs by Townes Van Zandt, Ben Harper, Sonny Landreth and Randy Newman, whose "Burn Down the Cornfield" takes on a darkly sinister tone, deepened by the coiled-snake slide guitar from the former Dylan sideman Charlie Sexton. A distinctive and rewarding set, which affirms that blues potency isn't just a matter of brute power and technique.

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