At age 78 and with a massive body of work to his name (more than 40 albums, and counting), Charlie Musselwhite is a revered and veteran bluesman. His expressive blues harp and laid-back, lived-in vocal approach has won him acclaim worldwide. And for his latest, 2022’s Mississippi Son, he sticks with Alligator Records, the label that released his 2020 collaboration with guitarist Elvin Bishop.
In fact Musselwhite’s relationship with Bruce Iglauer’s label goes way back to 1990. And he’s also released albums on Arhoolie, Vanguard and Stax; all are trademarks of quality. His material is dependably fine, and his latest does nothing to endanger that assessment. Musselwhite sings in his hoary yet warmly expressive voice, accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica. His only accompanists are Ricky “Quicksand” Martin on a spare drum kit and upright bassist Barry Bays. And they appear on but half of Mississippi Son’s 14 cuts. The rest of the record is all Charlie, all the time.
There’s a homespun, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee vibe to these tracks, a mix of Musselwhite originals, blues classics and relative obscurities. But though they’re a varied lot of tunes, they all hold together thanks to Musselwhite’s winning approach. The no-artifice production values – -capturing the music on a sound stage in Clarksdale, Mississippi – showcase the music in its finest context. With headphone or traditional speakers, the listener is instantly transported there, and the feel is very much like sitting in the room with Musselwhite as he runs through this ace collection of songs.