R&B, Blues, Soul & Stax

Harper & Harpist


Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite's new Stax release Get Up! makes perfect sense, even if it took years for the longtime friends to meet in the studio. They became acquainted back in 1994 at a John Lee Hooker gig. Harper opened the show and Musselwhite accompanied Hooker, and thereafter the two crossed paths every so often, always with the intention of one day recording together.

Each has a long history of collaboration. Throughout his storied career Musselwhite played or recorded with blues, rock, and pop honor roll members from B.B. King and Eric Clapton to INXS and Cyndi Lauper. Harper got an auspicious start touring and recording with Taj Mahal and outside of his successful solo career has worked with Jack Johnson, Dhani Harrison, and Brazilian singer Vanessa da Mata.

The album flows beautifully. Harper wrote or co-wrote all the tunes, and they have his signature energy and motley sound, although with Musselwhite's obvious influence the material hews to the blues. "I'm In I'm Out and I'm Gone" stomps like boots on a Chicago roadhouse floor, Musselwhite's harmonica helping gather intensity under Harper's chanting chorus.

The swinging feel, choir, and hand claps that directly follow on "We Can't End This Way" shift to a gospel feel, before the album deftly switches gears into the blues rock of "I Don't Believe A Word You Say." The entire album is a study in artful moods, Musselwhite blowing hot on "Blood Side Out" or lilting and evocative on the title track and Harper's vocals and guitar alternating between meditative, righteous, wounded, and celebratory.