On January 29th of 2013, two legendary musicians and brothers in the blues joined forces to craft a traditional album befitting of the genre, albeit one with an edge finely sharpened for the modern age. The album was Get Up!; the musicians none other than Charlie Musselwhite and Ben Harper. The two met first at a John Lee Hooker concert (both of whom were on the job, of course) and would finally record together for Hooker’s final album two years later. Over the years they made guest appearances upon each other’s albums as well as the records of others and toured sporadically together. But the time didn’t come until 2012 that these kindred spirits, set apart by a quarter of a century, were able to finally make an album in full together.
When Get Up! finally saw the light of day, it brought with it the blood, sweat, and tears of two old souls on a hallowed mission. The duo set to crafting an album that would not only excite the longtime fans of Musselwhite (a harpist of legend since the 60’s), while simultaneously exposing Harper’s audience to the blues from which his roots have grown. On both of these fronts, Get Up! succeeds. Neither artist has ever been a stranger to branching out of their home genre, and this record is a shining example of blues both traditional and modern, gospel, soul, and hard-hitting rock & roll with flourishes of folk, funk, and country mixed in for good measure.
On “We Can’t End This Way”, Harper returns from church with the gorgeous voices of three choir members (Pebbles Phillips, Marti Walker, and C.C. White) in tow, accompanied by claps, twangy guitar riffs, and harmonica throughout. The album reaches its most intense levels with the pained howls of “Bloodside Out” and “I Don’t Believe a Word You Say”. The latter of which is a barrage of Harper’s seasoned steel lap guitar, made all the more furious with Musselwhite’s harmonica going toe-to-toe, slice-for-slice with Harper’s strings. The title track has the honor of being the funkiest of the bunch, with a steady bassline strolling along with Harper’s empowering lyrics before becoming a slide-driven jamboree. A true treat is found in the minimal, bare bones, droning haunt of “I Ride at Dawn”, a lament of the constant war of man. All in all, Harper and Musselwhite have delivered a modern day gem of a record which burns with the soul of blues music that frequented the scene half a century ago. Hopefully these two have more collaborations in store for the world of music because it should go without saying that we could use more labors of love in the vein of Get Up!. Perhaps the adoration from fans, acclaim from critics, and a Grammy Award for Best Blues Album will be enough to get Musselwhite and Harper in the studio and out with a new collaboration. One can only hope.