Charlie Musselwhite

Up & Down the Highway Live: 1986

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For this album -- recorded live in Europe in 1986 -- harpist/vocalist Musselwhite is joined by an acoustic duo of Bob Hall (who also penned the sleeve notes) on piano and guitarist Dave Peabody (who shot the booklet's pictures). The nearly hourlong set is comprised of only eight tracks averaging six minutes each, leaving plenty of space for each member to strut his stuff. Although the guitar is recorded too low in the mix, the threesome tears through seven covers and one original with enthusiasm, class, and intensity. Musselwhite in particular is in fine form, whipping off country blues harp solos and singing with a low-key yet committed intensity that sets up a tough groove. Except for the well-worn "Key to the Highway," the songs are relatively obscure offerings by Lightnin' Hopkins ("Candy Kitchen"), Little Walter ("Everybody Needs Somebody"), Jimmy Rushing ("Hey Miss Bessie"), and Sonny Boy Williamson ("Skinny Woman"). It's a no-frills, unadorned affair that captures a talented trio on a hot night in front of an appreciative audience. Musselwhite's high-energy harp lines show how dexterous his playing is when he has freedom to stretch out, and the performance exhibits the uncanny synergy he had working with these musicians. It's a resilient and rugged set of blues that proves Musselwhite can hold his own with any legendary blues harmonica player.

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