Charlie Musselwhite | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Charlie Musselwhite

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Blues harpist Charlie Musselwhite grew up in Memphis, where he learned to play by hanging out with old-timers like Furry Lewis and Will Shade. In 1962, at age 18, he moved to Chicago, where he met his most important mentor, Big Walter Horton; after he released his debut in 1967 on Vanguard, he quickly became a leading light of the late-60s blues-rock movement. In recent years, though, he's been ranging further and further from his beloved 12-bar blues, adding strains of rootsy country and introspective, noirish folk, and the new Sanctuary (Real World) is his darkest and most adventurous album yet. He croons Townes Van Zandt's "Snake Song" ("You can touch me if you need to / But I got poison, just could bite you") like a devilish Casanova, and his apocalyptic reading of "Burn Down the Cornfield" strips the irony from Randy Newman's lyrics. On "My Road Lies in Darkness," one of Musselwhite's own tunes, his harp sound veers from a hawklike shriek to a haunting warble, and the band cranks out a taut, restrained blues grind as threatening as an idling chain saw. Another original, "I Had Trouble," combines gospel harmonies from the Blind Boys of Alabama with similarly spiky, propulsive backup, over which Musselwhite delivers the line that could serve as his manifesto: "The blues is a bird that sings in the dark, before dawn." Dave Specter opens. Friday, May 14, 9:30 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118.

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