Charlie Musselwhite, “The Well” (Alligator)
The story of Charlie Musselwhite choosing sobriety is a familiar one in blues circles, but it’s nonetheless touching. Memphis Charlie uses his triumphant return disc for Chicago’s Alligator Records to tenderly recount how he was inspired by a courageous little girl who fell down a well. It’s all the more effective since Musselwhite seems more like a graduate of the charm school they call Cook County Jail (the subject of another tune here) than the Teddy bear type.
Musselwhite is not only one of the world’s greatest harmonica players, but also one of the finest songwriters working in the blues. “The Well” is the first disc of his five-decade career where he wrote every song, and it’s filled with touching personal remembrances. “Sad and Beautiful World,” a duet with Mavis Staples, is a poignant but never maudlin reflection on the murder of his 93-year-old mother in her Memphis home. “Dig the Pain” is the “before” tune about drinking, paired with the “after” of “The Well.” And “Where Hwy 61 Runs” is an evocative travelogue of his Mississippi roots.
With so many artists making compromises in the name of commerce in these tough times, “The Well” serves as a reminder of just how good popular music can be when it comes straight from the heart.