x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite collaborate on new album Get Up!

An energetically fresh project from the blues virtuoso and the relatively younger singer-songwriter.

Ben Harper. Sylvain Thomas / AFP
Ben Harper. Sylvain Thomas / AFP

Ben Harper
and Charlie Musselwhite

Get Up!
(Stax Records / Concord Music Group)

With nearly two decades of music behind him, the eclectic singer-songwriter Ben Harper finds himself collaborating with the iconic bluesman Charlie Musselwhite.

While Harper’s decision to record with the 68-year-old harmonica player may come off as totally random, the fact is the project has been in the works for quite some time. The two recorded with Musselwhite’s longtime friend and boogie legend John Lee Hooker, who was so impressed with their chemistry that he encouraged them to work together. A decade or so of occasional musical collaborations followed, and now the unlikely pair finally join forces and meld two generational ends of the blues spectrum on their first full-length effort Get Up!

Some blues fans worried the partnership between the blues virtuoso and the comparatively younger star was a disaster waiting to happen and could only result in something that reeked of novelty value, but this speculation is  not validated with this energetically fresh project. From the gospel-tinged poignancy of We Can’t End This Way and the quintessential bluesy tone of Don’t Look Twice, to the funky title track and the aggressively hard-rocking I Don’t Believe a Word You Say, this 10-track album sees Musselwhite and Harper leaning on each other sonically in a way that illustrates how important artistic chemistry is when it comes to producing a quality collaborative effort. The duo’s harmony reaches its peak when they turn things up a notch; on the raw I’m In, I’m Out, and I’m Gone, the Musselwhite-assisted spastic shuffle beat acts as the perfect complement to Harper’s stream-of-consciousness librettos.

While Harper’s lyrical propensity isn’t consistently stellar on this record, he more than makes up for it thanks to his soulful honesty and undeniable talent (along with a bit of help from the learned elder Musselwhite, of course). The multi-talented Harper’s dexterous grasp of musical instruments, particularly the slide guitar, is extremely impressive.

After his numerous musical partnerships over the years, from his work with Blind Boys of Alabama to Joseph Arthur and Dhani Harrison, Harper seems to have finally found the ideal collaborator in Musselwhite. The underrated blues wunderkind’s ability to push past tradition and try new things without losing his identity manages to effectively function with Harper’s musical modernism that results in Get Up!, an organically solid body of work that exhibits a contemporary appeal as well as a deep-rooted respect for sacred grassroots musical traditions.