It's easy to get sidetracked by the number of times the word "legendary" appears in proximity to white blues-harp, er, legend Charlie Musselwhite, and it's easy to forget that the man just turned 50 this year. As blues legends go, he's a babe in the woods. You won't hear inexperience in his dexterous harp work, though, and if there's anything identifiably youthful in Musselwhite's music, it's the slinky energy he carries onto the stage and his undiminished drive to make the blues new, or at least up-to-date.
Musselwhite's blues pedigree hits all the stops: Mississippi childhood, Memphis in the '50s, urban apprenticeship in Chicago and active elder-statesmanship on the West Coast. A sort of Dr. John of the blues harp, Musselwhite started out on guitar before getting serious about the harmonica -- so serious that comparisons to harp god Little Walter are now not only inevitable, but well-justified.
Musselwhite is on the road showcasing his Alligator release In My Time, an over-the-shoulder glimpse at the long road he's traveled. It doesn't just touch upon, but exemplifies, everything from Delta grit ("Stingaree") to Chicago sting (Sonny Boy Williamson's "The Big Boat") to jazzy funk ("Movin' and Groovin' "). The Blind Boys of Alabama act like vocal MSG on the gospel flavor of "Ain't It Time" and the disk's closer, "Bedside of a Neighbor." Musselwhite also digs out that guitar on four songs, offering a powerful suggestion that even if old dogs can't learn new tricks, they may well have a few old ones stashed away, just waiting for a platform.
The white-hot road band of guitarist Andrew "Junior Boy" Jones, bassist Felton Crews and drummer Tommy Hill is perfectly capable of following Musselwhite's lead through a long history of stylistic mastery -- and of stirring any crowd with a pulse into a jumping blue-note reverie. With their backing, the man Muddy Waters never failed to introduce as Good Time Charlie should be more than convincingly legendary, even if that's a title usually reserved for masters who -- unlike Musselwhite -- are sliding down the back side of a career.
-- Brad Tyer
Charlie Musselwhite plays at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 31 at Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington, 861-9365. $12.50.
* Rev. Horton Heat at the Abyss, Thursday, March 31
* Grifters at Goat's Head Soup, Thursday, March 31
* Shoulders at the Satellite Lounge, Friday, April 1
* Cowboy Junkies and Freedy Johnston at Bayou City Theatre, Friday,
* Sara Hickman at Rockefeller's, Friday, April 1
* Lou Ann Barton at the Satellite Lounge, Saturday, April 2
* Alice Donut at the Shimmy Shack, Saturday, April 2
* Rory Block at Rockefeller's, Monday, April 4
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