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Charlie Musselwhite
SANCTUARY
(Realworld)
Stars graphics

This album is the harmonica legend’s late-career masterpiece, balancing the soul of deep blues with sonic textures in a way that bridges the genre’s past and future. Despite a host of fiery guests who include Ben Harper, the Five Blind Boys, and Sonny Landreth, Musselwhite is always at the heart of this music, playing haunting harp lines with unpretentious command and singing in a voice that’s never shaken the dust of his native Mississippi Delta. Although he’s sought to push the style’s envelope by experimenting with Tejano, country, and jazz colors on earlier recordings, this collaboration with producer John Chelew, who’s made outstanding albums with the Blind Boys in recent years, both widens and darkens his sonic spectrum, even on a pair of harmonica instrumentals that ring with heartfelt expression.

Subtle sheets of noise scraped from guitar strings and plectrumed bell tones turn "Train to Nowhere" and Randy Newman’s "Burn Down the Cornfield" into mysterious tales of menace and bleak destiny. Landreth purrs alongside Musselwhite on the booming hard-luck story "Shootin’ for the Moon." Harper, in fitting with his spiritual thrust, brings his distinctive Weissenborn lap steel to his own "Homeless Child." And gospel veterans the Blind Boys help Musselwhite take his autobiographical "I Had Trouble" right to the front of the church. This is the year’s first truly essential album for blues fans.

BY TED DROZDOWSKI


Issue Date: April 23 - 29, 2004
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