Ben Harper is a modern champion of American roots and soul, and blues harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite is one of Harper’s heroes. These two artists met at a blues festival in Australia in the mid-’90s, beginning a friendship that resulted in several one-off collaborations. Now they’ve recorded their first full-length together, Get Up, a collection of new blues songs written by Harper, who also sang, played lap steel and guitar, and co-produced the album with his band mates and engineer/producer/bassist Sheldon Gomberg.
The various arrangements that Harper, Musselwhite and their band came up with—from high-test numbers like “I Don’t Believe a Word You Say,” with electric guitars and wailing harp, to delicate acoustic Delta-inspired performances such as “I Ride at Dawn”—showcase the artists’ command of a range of blues styles, and their creativity within those frameworks.
Harper says that one of the keys to getting an authentic vintage blues vocal sound was to understand the off-mic singing technique of classic Chess artists and others. “I always wondered, why do all those blues records sound so freaking different,” Harper says. “I realized, one characteristic that was a big contribution was being off the mic, bringing in the room sound. They have this haunted, haunting off-mic sound.”
Get Up has that cool vocal sound, plus inspired playing by guitarist Jason Mozersky, bassist Jesse Ingalls, drummer Jordan Richardson, Harper, and of course, the secret weapon of Charlie Musselwhite’s rich, sensitive harp playing.
Producers: Ben Harper, Sheldon Gomberg, Jason Mozersky, Jesse Ingalls, Jordan Richardson. Recorded and mixed by Sheldon Gomberg. Studio: The Carriage House, L.A. Mastering: Gaving Lurssen/Lurssen Mastering (L.A.)