Shot through with attitude, the songs on Delta Hardware feel rough-hewn and tough, just as they should for a guy "born in Mississippi (and) raised up in Tennessee". Charlie cuts loose a good time in Clarksdale, pipes up for the downtrodden, and gives a lover the ol heave-ho. This is raw, passionate music from a howlin' blues legend whos still invigorated by a youthful spirit.
Its Charlie's mix of wild country abandon seasoned by years of playing urban electric blues in Chicago that spurs the likes of Ben Harper, Tom Waits and Govt Mule to welcome Musselwhite onto their stages and records. That same brash, blues/rock rebel vibe was Dan Aykroyd's inspiration for his Elwood Blues persona, and it's what has won Musselwhite a pile of blues awards and earned the admiration and respect of his own heroes: Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. - John Lee was even the best man at Charlies wedding.
Pulled, like the albums of R.L. Burnside and the North Mississippi Allstars, out of the storied Mississippi Delta and Hill Country, Delta Hardware is a mixture of songs written over the past few years and ideas fleshed out in the studio, and includes a new twist on the longtime live staple, Clarksdale Boogie. True to the blues as an expression of a range of honest emotions and stories, Delta Hardware ranges from upbeat jewels like the party track Church Is Out to more socially conscious songs like Black Water and The Invisible Ones. With the latter two tracks, inspired by the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, Charlie paints a stark, honest tribute to those suffering in and around New Orleans and in his home state: Old black water lappin at your back door/Hello America, better get ready for more/Trouble, trouble all around here/ just too tired to shed one tear/ Black Water/ It's a sign of our times.
Things just seem to be falling apart, Musselwhite says. And I think people are waking up to that. I think people are starting to see that theres something really rotten going on. Admittedly, the political arena is an odd and uncomfortable arena for him to step into. I dont want to be offensive to anybody. I respect everybody and their opinion, and I hope they respect mine.
Backed by his touring band, Musselwhite, now based in Sonoma County, California, lends his guitar skills to one track on Delta Hardware and otherwise just goes stompin, blowin and shouting his way through the albums 10 tracks. The album walks the line between rock and electric country blues, sometimes playing it straight, sometimes taking new turns. On Clarksdale Boogie, he offers up a virtual mantra for his life behind his first-ever use of a drum and bass loop: Meet me where they play good blues. The crowd noise in this track is sampled from a night at Reds juke joint in Clarksdale.
Over the years, Musselwhite has released dozens of albums and has contributed to countless others including guesting on Bonnie Raitts Grammy award-winning Longing In Their Hearts; The Blind Boys of Alabamas Grammy-winning Spirit of the Century; Tom Waits Mule Variations and even playing the driving harmonica on INXS Suicide Blonde. He was the longtime compadre and musical partner to his friend John Lee Hooker. His recent tour and recording sessions with Ben Harper have led to live and studio tracks featuring Charlie on the limited edition bonus disc of Bens Both Sides of the Gun. Musical institutions have honored Musselwhite, too. With 18 W.C. Handy awards to his credit and 6 Grammy nominations, he is firmly entrenched in musical history. Musselwhite has also been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from The Monterey Blues Festival and the San Javier Jazz Festival in Spain and the Mississippi Governors Award for Excellence in the Arts. Perhaps most meaningful to him personally, in 1987, he conquered a long-running battle with alcoholism.
Musselwhites version of the blues ventures far beyond conventional honky-tonk - though the Harley Davidsons lined up outside Musselwhites gigs testify that Musselwhite has what it takes to rock the house. Musselwhite himself is simply interested in music with feeling - as he puts it, music from the heart: For me, its about the feeling, and connecting with people. And blues, if its real blues, is loaded with feeling. And it aint about technique either, its about truth, connecting to the truth and communicating with people.
That connection has been particularly strong with his fans from the start. Ive had Vietnam vets tell me that my music was important to them while they were in Vietnam. Ive had people whove had problems with alcohol talk to me about quitting, and tell me that I inspired them to quit, Ive had couples tell me that they met at one of my shows and got married years after.
With Delta Hardware, Musselwhite says simply, Im keepin it real. For the listener, I hope its like a journey, I hope each tune takes em to another little place, and I hope at the end theyre glad they went.