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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
The 100 Club, London, November 19th 2008
Charlie Musselwhite
We shouldn’t be here. No disrespect to Charlie Musselwhite (“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to be anywhere”), but we shouldn’t be here. Let me read you the letter those nice people at the South Bank sent me. “It is with great regret that Grammy and Academy Award-winner Randy Newman has had to postpone his forthcoming European tour, on doctor’s orders, because of physical limitations and severe pain caused by stenosis in the lower back and neck. Randy Newman says, ‘I deeply regret not being able to come. I like it so much in Europe as I’ve always been treated so well’”. Well it’s a sad thing, as Mr Newman’s stock has been rising of late – unlike most others - not just as a result of his numerous witty film scores, but also as a result of a growing appreciation of his broad canon of work, possibly sparked in part by ‘Louisiana 1927’, a song about the great flood of that year that was written in the early 1970s, but resurrected as the anthem of those campaigning on behalf of the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. On top of which he released a highly-rated album (co-produced by wonder-producer Mitchell Froom), Harps and Angels, earlier this year, only his fourth in two decades. But that’s enough of Mr Newman for now. Let’s wish him a speedy recovery and rejoice at the fact that at such short notice, even in a London where the pessimistic murmurs of approaching doom in the music business get louder by the day, one still finds as high a quality a gig as this.
Regular readers may recall from a previous review that Mr Musselwhite is a survivor: “Whiskey and wine, that’s what did me in,” he said in a recent interview, “It got to where I couldn’t function properly.” Well, without a drink for twenty years, he’s perfectly charming and functioning pretty well, turning in a stellar performance to an enthusiastic audience.
And he’s sans band – so the first half of the show is Mr Musselwhite solo on guitar and harmonica. He has an easy Delta blues style (actually I should say annoyingly easy), as relaxed as the man himself. His songs are mostly self-composed, and in between the music we get some pleasing anecdotes and some first-rate harmonica tuition. And if you want to get a feel for the material he played then listen to his 2004 solo album Darkest Hour. British folk-blues veteran Dave Peabody (“Blimey”, said Jozzer, “the last time I saw him was in the upstairs room at the New College Arms in Eton back in the early seventies. Isn’t he dead?”) joined Musselwhite on guitar for the second half which kicked off with ‘The blues overtook me’, and featured Musselwhite’s more familiar urban harp sound – the style that led to him play with musicians such as Muddy Waters at the start of his career. Charlie Musselwhite
What we hear is nothing short of a mini-master class. And if Musselwhite’s demeanour is happy then it’s contradicted somewhat by his songs, which throughout the evening are at their best when focussed on the meaner side of life, traditionally celebrated by the blues.
Want to try yourself? Short of a few self-gifting ideas for the festive season ahead? Then why not buy Charlie Musselwhite’s guide to harmonica playing, and amaze your friends at Christmas parties for years to come! - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Listen: Charlie Musselwhite's MySpace page (check the hit 'Church is out!')
Kate's gig photo album Kate's photographs

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