In My Time
Grand master of blues harmonica celebrates his deep roots, with both modern and traditional bands plus four acoustic cuts. "Fantastic harp"--BILLBOARD "Musselwhite's best album ever"--ASSOCIATED PRESS
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All songs by Charlie Musselwhite, Musselwhite Music, BMI except as shown
Produced by Kevin Morrow
Recorded and mixed by Sam Lehmer at Russian Hill Recording, San Francisco, CA, assisted by Bob Conlan and Scott Strain except (3), recorded by Gary Brandt at Alpha Studio, Burbank, CA, assisted by Russell Burt
Mastered by Paul Stubblebine at Rocket Labs, San Francisco, CA
(1) Charlie Musselwhite,
Guitar and Vocal
(2) Charlie Musselwhite,
Guitar and Vocal
The Blind Boys of Alabama, Voices :
Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter, Curtis Foster, and Bobby Butler
(3) Charlie Musselwhite,
Harmonica and Vocals
Mike "Junior" Watson, Guitar
Gene Taylor, Piano
Larry Taylor, Bass
Steven Hodges, Drums
(4) Charlie Musselwhite,
Harmonica and Vocals
Andrew "Junior Boy" Jones, Guitar
Felton Crews, Bass
Tommy Hill, Drums
Jim Krejci, Technical Advisor
Cover and group photo by
Cover design by Matt Minde
The Blind Boys of Alabama appear courtesy of Elektra Records
Thanks to Henrietta, Kevin Morrow, Chris Goldsmith, Lisa Richards and all the staff at Falk and Morrow Talent, Brande Lindsey of Global Access, Bill Bowker, Ken Dowton, Barry Levine, Steve Axelrod, Jimmy Wood, Dan Aykroyd, Joe Filisco, Pete Welding and especially Dave Hodges.
Charlie uses Mudslide and Moonshine guitar slides and Lee Oskar harps.
This project is in memory of Luther Tucker, Albert King and Albert Collins who are joining Big Joe, Shakey Horton, Sleepy John, Will Shade, Furry Lewis and the others at the next big jam session on the other side.
IN MY TIME strikes me as a particularly apt title for an album that treads so effortlessly, joyously and instructively between the artist's past and present, as well as auguring so well for the future. While all blues are to some degree autobiographical, if only emotionally, the ones that Charlie Musselwhite treats us to here possess an especially potent and thrilling rootedness both to his deep experience with the music and a number of its leading performers -- notably John Lee Hooker, Big Joe Williams, Sonny Boy Williamson, Roosevelt Sykes, Fred McDowell and several others -- and to his long, continuing journey to total mastery of its expressive conventions and the perfection of a rewarding approach of his own that's as distinctive as a fingerprint and as satisfying as the best of his sources. And there's no doubt he has succeeded in this; his is one of the most commanding and strikingly individual voices in all of the contemporary blues.
In My Time makes this abundantly clear in a way that previous of his albums (good as they've been) have not always done -- not, that is, in the same manner or to the same degree. The album title, it seems to me, can be taken in several ways. At its simplest it can mean that here, finally, Charlie's time has come; that he's absorbed and transcended all of his influences, that his music is now fully matured and he's his own man. It can mean that he's persevered -- outlasted (and outclassed) all the johnny-come latelies, coat-tailing trendies and other poseurs the blues has attracted to it over the years and, by dint of both dedication and talent, made it to the music's very front ranks, where he's now widely acknowledged as one of the blues' finest singers and players.
Then too, and this is most important, it can tell us something of Charlie's intentions and his methods in putting together this set of performances. What he's done here is actually pretty simple -- but an inspired kind of simple -- and an idea so sound, interesting and logical it's surprising more performers haven't taken it up and done it also. And that's to take a long, thoughtful look back over his musical past as a means of charting the odyssey of influence and accomplishment he's followed ever since taking up the blues close to three decades ago. In short, In My Time is something between a summing up and an album of, call them, family snapshots. Musical ones, that is, and the family in question the whole community of the blues: those singers, players and writers who, in person or on recordings, have touched Charlie and helped shape his music and who, through his own deeply satisfying singing, playing and increasingly, writing, have touched us as well.
This is not the usual sort of career-spanning overview album artists generally are given after they're gone and have nothing to say about the retrospectives put together in their honor (or worse, simply to capitalize on their deaths), reminding us of the loss we and the music have suffered at their passing. Nor is it a celebration marking an anniversary or an event of some special significance to the performer: winning a coveted award, being inducted into a hall of fame, or the like.
No, it simply was time for Charlie to pause and reflect a bit on his life in the blues, to take a look at where he came from and where he's at -- perhaps even where he's going -- and whom he's met and learned from along the way. There's nothing particularly unusual about this, of course. We all do it from time to time -- at decade-spanning birthdays or important anniversaries, for example, and at least one other time during the year, when New Year's rolls around and we take stock of ourselves and where we're at in relation to our goals. What's unusual about this particular bit of stocktaking, however, is the way Charlie's gone about it -- publicly and musically -- which both makes it such a special album and makes us as much the beneficiaries of Charlie's reflections as he himself. For which, thanks, Charlie.
In My Time is neither confessional nor overtly biographical in tone or purpose. What you'll notice when listening to the album is this -- for all the purposeful or unconscious acknowledgement of sources in the songs Charlie has written for it, they never seem studied or contrived. On the contrary, these songs breathe with the perfect, unselfconscious naturalness of utterance that always characterizes the blues at their best and most telling. They spring from experience, either direct or observed, and they tell their stories and weave their spells with authentic, deeply felt emotion and direct, unpretentious language. And not a little humor. That's Charlie to a tee. His personality -ingratiating, easygoing, relaxed -runs through each and every one of these songs, raising our spirits and warming our hearts.
And in them Charlie takes us back to his earliest days in Memphis when, as a teenager first discovering the blues, he was befriended by and learned from such veteran bluesmen as Will Shade, Gus Cannon, Red Robey, Johnny Moment and Memphis Minnie. Before taking up the harmonica, he played guitar, and he returns to this instrument in such performances as the the gospel piece he plays so evocatively with bottleneck in open-E tuning, Ain't It Time, or the blues Stingaree, played in open-G tuning in emulation of two of his closest friends and teachers, John Lee Hooker and the late Big Joe Williams (who took a number of young bluesmen under his wing, Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield, Erwin Helfer and Charlie among them). Casual Friend, on the other hand, recalls singer-pianist Roosevelt Sykes, whom Charlie encountered in Chicago, while The Big Boat and Leaving Blues bring to mind the two Sonny Boy Williamsons, both brilliant, wholly individualistic (and quite different) singers and harmonica players who influenced all who came after them. Charlie's debt to the first Sonny Boy -- John Lee Williamson -- is particularly evident in these two pieces, while the second, Leaving Blues, also pays homage to the second Sonny Boy, the wry, enigmatic Rice Miller. Gospel influences again crop up in Bedside Of A Neighbor , evoking one of Charlie's favorite groups, The Blind Boys of Alabama.
The next phase of his musical development stems from Charlie's mid-1960s move to Chicago and immersion in that city's rich, vigorous modern blues scene. In those days giants stalked the earth - or at least played and sang in the taverns of the South and West Sides: Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Robert Nighthawk, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Magic Sam, Otis Rush and a host of others. Charlie heard and learned from them all, for by this time he not only had committed himself totally to the blues but taken up harmonica in earnest. On this instrument his chief - but not only - mentors were Big Walter Horton, James Cotton, Junior Wells, John Wrencher and from 1964, when he resettled in the city, the phenomenal Little Walter, from who all modern blues harmonica stems (and often returns!). There can be no doubt Charlie learned his lessons well. This fertile period and this music are best represented here by Blues, Why Do You Worry Me?, rooted in a number of sources; the Baby Boy Warren-influenced Please Don't Think I'm Nosy; the loose, invigorating Watson's Excellent Adventure which Charlie describes as "a spontaneous jam similar to those that often happen in blues clubs" - that it does, and then some; and If I Should Have Bad Luck of which its author notes, "After I wrote this, I realized it sounded like an Eddie Taylor style tune"- that is, a song of deceptive simplicity and emotional directness and buoyed throughout by an effortless-sounding rhythmic resilience.
Then there's something Charlie, like Little Walter and a few others before him, has long been noted for - incorporating compatible elements from jazz into his music. Charlie, it will be recalled, was one of the first blues harmonica players to essay modern jazz pieces such as Duke Pierson's Cristo Redentor, turning it into something of a signature song. He continues this practice here with Revelation and the aptly-titled Movin' And Groovin' as well as the urban Latin-inflected When It Rains It Pours which mines a similar melodic-rhythmic vein as the jazz pieces. Charlie's long been a knowing fan of some of the earthier, more fundamental jazz artists -Gene Ammons, Jimmy Smith, Grant Green, Sonny Stitt, Big John Patton, Freddie Roach, Jackie McLean and others - as well as such "outside" players as John Coltrane, Roscoe Mitchell and Gene Shaw. Tapping into this rich musical resource was, for him, as logical as it was inevitable, and it's given his music a strength and coloristic dimension all his own.
All these influences combine in Hear Me Talkin' and Midnight Mama, which Charlie describes as best typifying the present-day Musselwhite style -- meaning, if I read him right, that these are songs for which he can discern no obvious sources but which spring totally from his own resources of creativity and imagination. More are surely in the offing. In its rich diversity and abundant, thoughtful mastery, in the incisive balance it maintains between Charlie's past and present, In My Time simply is the finest, most fully realized and deeply satisfying album Charlie's ever made. So far, that is.
Pete Welding is the former assistant editor of Down Beat magazine, the founder and owner of Testament Records and Director of A&R and Creative Services for Capitol Records Special Markets.