CD Review – Juke Joint Chapel by Charlie Musselwhite

Written by on February 2, 2014

Charlie Musselwhite
Juke Joint Chapel recorded “live”
Recorded August 22, 2012 at the Juke Joint Chapel, Shack Up Inn, Hwy, 49 Clarksdale MS
mixed & mastered at The Clarksdale Soundstage, Clarksdale, MS

The blues harmonica, when it’s played really well, is a vital part of music. When it’s not played well . . .
Here in Portland, Oregon, there used to be a blues jam night at the (now defunct) Candlelight Cafe. In the open jams, anyone was welcome to play – except for harp players (harmonica players). Harp players were told to “pay one hundred dollars” to sit in with the rest of the musicians.

One the other hand, I bet a lot of open jams would pay Charlie Musselwhite one hundred dollars to sit in. He’s a harmonica blues virtuoso, and a legend. He’s also part of the blues graduating class that includes Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield. Musselwhite is also the inspiration behind the character of Elwood Blues from the Blues Brothers (played by Dan Aykroyd). And he was born in Mississippi in 1944, and grew up in Memphis while rock and roll was in its formative years.

Any number of blues artists would also need instant payday loans to be able to record in Clarksdale, Mississippi, considered Ground Zero for the blues. Charlie Musselwhite has paid his dues and done the work. Clarksdale is a perfect place for him to record. “Juke Joint Chapel” is the 27th studio album, in a long line of recordings from Musselwhite stretching back to 1967.

The recording also features blues veterans June Core on drums, Matt STubbs on guitar, and Mike Phillips on bass and backup vocals.

Many of the songs – Bad Boy, It Ain’t Right, and others – begin with a long instrumental lead in. This gives the record a bit of a laid back feel, where you can just settle into the groove the band is laying down. When Charlie does get around to singing, it feels like an afterthought.

Of course, there’s plenty of classic blues subject matter. Relationship woes? Check out “I’m Going Home” for trying to make something right; “As the Crow Flies”, for consolation that love is nearby; or “Gone Too Long”, for confirmation of an ending.

Musselwhite has written five songs on this CD. The best two tracks, “Blues Overtook Me” and “Blues Why Do You Worry Me?” are autobiographical, and detail the love/hate relationship of playing the blues.

“Roll Your Money Maker”, the second track, sets the house party feel for much of the CD. It’s only at the end, on the final track, that the pace slows down into a slow, beautiful instrumental. It’s here where the harmonica playing really shines. Musselwhite thanks the crowd for being there, and the show is over.





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