Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite’s Get Up! (released 1/29/13) is the collaboration of two music lovers who happen to be musicians. And while both have more than respectable resumes (the combined history of which totals approximately a hundred years), the reality is these two men of different eras are living, breathing connections between different generations. And if that’s not remarkable enough, on both this decade-old album and its successor, Harper and Musselwhite maintain the link without one iota of self-consciousness.
On the contrary, unbridled gusto prevails throughout. Ben, Charlie, and their accompanists sound as comfortable on the acoustic country blues of “Don’t look Twice” –a close cousin of “You Found Another Lover (And I Lost Another Friend)” (six years later certified Gold by RIAA )–as the wailing electricity laced “I’m In I’m Out and I’m Gone.” The versatility present here, in forms large and small, also comes to the fore when, after the preceding thunder, the gospel-inflected two-step of “We Can’t End This Way” appears: it may be the most joyful noise on Get Up!’s forty-plus minutes and that’s saying something.
As if to reaffirm Harper/ Musselwhite and company’s grasp on the blues, the foreboding air of “I Ride At Dawn” is as palpable as the high spirits on that aforementioned cut. It doesn’t all derive from the stealthy means by which Harper’s slide snakes through the performance, but it is comparable to the sinuous lines of Musselwhite’s harp on the title song. And Jason Mosersky’s pointed electric guitar attracts as much deserved attention there as Jesse Ingalls’ piano on “She Got Kick.”
The follow-up to Get Up!, No Mercy In This Land, arrived five years later, during which ensuing period Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite won Grammys and conducted tours in support of their work that fully mirrored their unified, eclectic approach. Like the appearance in Vermont’s Higher Ground on June 1, 2018, the pair not only reaffirmed their mutual roots but their willingness to step outside any theoretical or self-imposed boundaries. It’s a symbiosis in line with how blues icon John Lee Hooker first introduced the two men to each other in 1998, after which they were further encouraged to work together in 2013 by Booker T & The MGs’ guitarist Steve Cropper.
On stage with essentially the same band as was present in the studio on the second effort, outside material such as the Beatles’ “Yer Blues” as well as Zeppelin’s cover of Memphis Minnie’s “When the Levee Breaks,” offered drummer Jimmy Paxson the opportunity how to fuse flash with a stable rhythmic foundation. Otherwise, the preponderance of Harper originals such as “I Don’t Believe A Word You Say” hardly skewed the balance of contributions to the whole: a collective self-awareness reflected in Charlie’s knowing grin on Get Up!‘s front cover photo speaks to the self-awareness of roles within the tightly-knit collective in concert and in the studio. If the two albums didn’t suggest as much, the performance in front of a rabid sold-out crowd in Vermont nurtured hope these two men would eventually reunite to work together again. Ben and Charlie’s subsequent solo work kept the creative juices flowing, as did the reignition of past alliances (Harper’s Innocent Criminals band) and the forging of new ones (Musselwhite and Elvin Bishop as a duo on 100 Years of Blues). Thus, the timeless nature of the genre on display for Get Up!, plus the reverberations continuing through its follow-up, suggests that another circle may well remain unbroken beyond this ten-year milestone.
Great album by two GOATS! Hard to believe it’s been 10 years already.