Seventy-seven years is a long time. With this much time spent on a craft, it is safe to say a level of expertise is cultivated in that period. This the amount of professional music experience between the lover of multiple genres Ben Harper and blues harp legend Charlie Musselwhite.
Musselwhite alone has been at the blues game for over 50 years and has appeared on stage and on albums with some of the most notable names in our favorite genre including Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield. In fact, it is rumored that when John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd decided to put their SNL sketch Blues Brothers on the big screen, Charlie Musselwhite was the inspiration for Aykroyd’s character. That is how vital Musselwhite and his harmonica playing is to the blues! Over his long tenure, he has played with many incredible blues artists including Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy and has recorded over thirty-five studio albums.
Musselwhite first met a young Ben Harper in 1998 when the two musicians collaborated with the ultimate blues master John Lee Hooker. Hooker knew that the two musicians would blend really well stylistically and was curious about what would happen. The result of this mash up was the tune “Burnin’ Hell” which showcased all three musicians at the top of their game.
Ben Harper is a popular name across many genres and has won awards in categories like Best Pop Performance, Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album, and Best Blues Album. He is what we like to call a jack of all trades and a master of most. He has been on the scene for about 26 years and has collaborated with many musicians and really cannot be clumped with a specific group of bands or artists, which is really cool and unique in this day and age.
Charlie Musselwhite and Ben Harper have been collaborating ever since they met and make insanely great music Their 2013 album Get Up! went back in time and captured the essence of early blues albums. The album one the Grammy Award for the Best Blues Album in 2014 and solidified their status as a first-rate blues duo.
Their latest offering, No Mercy in this Land released in March of 2018, is another stand out album and will definitely garner a Grammy nomination. The album has a case for either the Contemporary or Traditional album categories. The album pays tribute to the older blues musicians but also incorporates modern popular elements like the distorted “dirty” sounds and muffled vocals.
The album kicks off strong with a slower and gritty tune “When I Go.” Musselwhite adds in extended harmonica lines, outlining the chord changes and enhancing the edgy nature of the tune. By the third track “Love and Trust” Harper breaks out the slide and enchants us with a country-blues style acoustic jam. This album has everything to make a stellar blues album including two beautiful blues ballads “Nothing At All” and “When Love is Not Enough.” The album also includes three live cuts of some tracks and shows what the two musicians can really do in an open setting.
Overall, this will be considered one of the best blues albums released this year and is a strong contender for a Grammy. If you are one of those people who think that pure and traditional blues is a thing of the past, these guys are here to prove you wrong!