As someone prone to hyperbole, or you might say my reviews tend to be on the manic side of No Depression, I will try and contain my glee over Charlie Musselwhite’s gem of a new CD “I Ain’t Lyin'” on Henrietta Records. The reason I love this CD and why it has been on constant rotation on my car’s CD player comes down to one word: Tone. This CD reeks of tone like the passenger compartment of a Rastafarian’s car on a long winter road trip.
The concept of tone has been expressed in different terms depending on the time frame and the genre (e.g. Duke’s lyricist Irving Mills “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing…” describing jazz or Arlester “Dyke ” Christian boasting “We got more soul…” in the early days of funk) it all comes down to the same thing, authenticity. It just doesn’t get any more authentic than blues professor emeritus Musselwhite on “I Ain’t Lyin'”.
Musselwhite takes the listener to school with this live set of all original material which is amazing in two respects. The sound is sooo good you would be hard pressed to guess it was cut in front of a live audience. No muddy instrumentation here. On the flip side, there is none of that “take 23” crap that tends to suck the life out of some studio performances. Instead, you get the best of both worlds, the spontaneous ambiance and energy of a live performance but with the impeccable sound of a studio recording. Kudos goes out to Gary Vincent, who took the live recording of Charlie and his band in Sonoma County down to his studio in Clarksdale, Mississippi to work his magic with stunning results.
The other amazing aspect of this project is the strength of the mostly original material. The opening track, “Good Blues Tonight”, sounds like it is straight out of J.D. Miller’s studio in Crowley, Louisiana with a wink to Slim Harpo’s “Tip on in”. Charlie and company capture the Excello sound and tone perfectly, which is no small feat. Following up the strong opening track is the equally strong cover of Elmore James’ “Done Somebody Wrong”, a pure Chicago blues number. I don’t know how Mr. Musselwhite pulls it off but even on the covers these tracks sound fresh without sounding derivative. Musselwhite’s vocals have never sounded better and his delivery evokes a man with fire in his belly.
Next up is a Little Walteresque shuffle “Long , Lean, Lanky Mama” that is simply killer. Not to sound like a broken record but Charlie nails Little Walter’s tone on harp like no other living blues man perhaps with the exception of Mark Wenner. Listening to the master over the course of this record you can hear the influence Charlie has had on nearly every other next generation harp player from Pat Hayes to Kim Wilson to R. J. Mischo and that’s just the players from Minneapolis or once based there.
Listening to the disc as I write this, I am literally getting goosebumps during “300 Miles to Go” which track contains the lyric from which the project takes its title. “Miles to Go” is an instant anthem for all the itinerant blues musicians used to a life of hit and runs.
On the aesthetic side, the cd ‘s packaging is as unpretentious as the music, with distractions kept to a minimum as if to say “let the music do the talking”. The picture on the disc itself is way cool and confirms that Charlie’s taste in all things is impeccable! “That’s Right!”
The musicians that comprise Charlie’s band on “I Ain’t Lyin'” are consummate pros. Mr. Junior “June” Core on drums, the phenominal Matt Stubbs on guitar and Steve Froberg, bass these guys are good. To the uninitiated, blues may seem like an easy genre to play and if I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a hundred times, the ignorant rap about simple chord progressions and the like. The fact is, while blues may be relatively easy to play, the blues is exceedingly hard to play well. Well done Charlie!