Charlie Musselwhite,
One Night In America
(Telarc, 2002)

Charlie Musselwhite's new CD One Night In America is a sincere and passionate reflection of the music he grew up with in Memphis during the 1940s and '50s. As explained in the liner notes, this recording was very personal for him; the concept was to record specific tunes that represented the distinctive sounds heard both on the air waves and throughout the streets of Memphis. One Night In America captures that period in time with incredible detail.

Musselwhite's musical diversity is highlighted on each of the 12 tracks, with a sound that's smooth as silk. This latest effort is a work of genius, blending together country and bluegrass styles with the kind of blues played during that time. Musselwhite openly shares the emotions of his personal journey, musically expressing those moments with great balance and sincerity.

One Night In America opens with "Trail of Tears," a catchy number that really grows on you with each listen. Of the four original Musselwhite tunes on the album, "Blues Overtook Me" is the very best. A real boogie shuffle with great guitar work by Robben Ford and solo work by Musselwhite that tells of his early introduction to the blues. Another original is "In Your Darkest Hour," a slow blues tune reflecting dark, depressing times. This track delivers a powerful performance by both Musselwhite on vocals and harp, and T-Bone Wolk's effective bass playing. Their efforts here, conjure up memories of feeling down or in despair, bringing light to one of the basic themes heard in blues music for that time.

Other standout tracks are "Cold Grey Light of Dawn," an Ivory Joe Hunter tune given it's due by Musselwhite as he tells the story of struggling with the bottle, and "Big River," a Johnny Cash tune and a tribute to the artist.

The band behind Musselwhite is a great mix of some very talented musicians: G.E. Smith (former band leader on Saturday Night Live) on guitar, T-Bone Wolk on bass, Peter Re on organ, Per Hanson and Michael Jerome sharing drum duty, and Christine Ohlman on vocals. There's also some great guest performances throughout the CD with Robbin Ford on guitar, country artists Marty Stuart on guitar and mandolin, and Kelly Willis on vocals. Both Stuart and Willis let their country roots shine on tracks like "Rank Strangers to Me," and "In a Town This Size."

Fans of Musselwhite's exceptional harp work won't be disappointed, as his talents are heard throughout this latest release. Instead of a hard-driving, up-front approach, Musselwhite incorporates his harp sound to accent the country feel of the album, concentrating more attention towards the lyrics themselves and the stories behind each track.

From start to finish, One Night In America is a well-produced album with incredible performances from everyone involved. Keep in mind, this album carries a major country sound, the style of country-western music heard playing during that time period. Considered a blues recording, the album covers the blues format with a heavy dose of country music mixed in-between -- a talented effort by Musselwhite as he captures several different elements musically and creates a new dimension to the blues. He shares his Memphis roots with pure passion and total honesty, walking us down memory lane with all it's heartache and pain. This recording has a story to tell, touching many emotions, a genuine gift from the artist himself. One Night In America is certainly Charlie Musselwhite's very best effort to date. I recommend giving it a close listen and making it part of your blues collection.

[ by Pamela L. Dow ]
Rambles: 3 August 2002

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