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Far afield of the blues

Delta Hardware
Delta Hardware
By Charlie Musselwhite

Real World Records: 2006

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A version of this review first appeared in the May 18, 2006 issue of the North County Times.

Tharlie Musselwhite is one of the best blues harmonica players going – and not just because he's one of the most veteran. And while he's always had both crossover appeal and the ability and willingness to incorporate contemporary rock elements into his playing, his latest album strays so far from the blues that neither it nor Musselwhite's playing is recognizable at times. One hopes this is an intentional effort to explore new terrain rather than at attempt (as we saw happen to John Lee Hooker, to Charles Brown, and to a lesser extent with B.B. King) to repackage him with a rock sheen to make him more palatable to a younger – or at least wider – audience.

On the new album, "One of These Mornings" is more alt rock than anything Delta, "Black Water" is psychedelia, "Just a Feeling" sounds like early heavy metal, and "Invisible Ones" has more in common with George Thorogood than anything Musselwhite has done before.

Not that stylistic range nor variety are bad things; but Musselwhite's playing never seems at home nor comfortable here – much of the album has a forced feel to it, as if the genius of Musselwhite weren't reward enough for listeners. Props the Musselwhite and his producer for trying something new, but it ranges so far afield at times that his longtime blues fans are likely to be confused more than challenged.

Highlights for his fans are likely to be the tracks that hew closest to the blues: "Sundown," which opens with a scintillating harp lead from Musselwhite; "Clarksdale Boogie" (which certainly is a boogie), and the closing number, "Blues for Yesterday." These all work great, and leave this blues fan wishing there were more of them here.