12.28.12 AllMusic review of Get Up!
Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite - Get Up!
This musical hookup between these two experienced roots artists who have more in common than it seems at first glance, is a natural evolution for both. Ben Harper seemed like an old soul, even when he began his career, dipping into classic R&B, gospel, and blues but spinning them through his dark, folk-funk persona. His work with the Blind Boys of Alabama showed him to be welcomed by veteran artists who clearly felt he was a kindred spirit. Harpist/guitarist Charlie Musselwhite's extensive résumé typically moved him past the often limiting structure of the Chicago blues where he first made his presence felt, to Tex-Mex, Cuban, Americana, swamp rock, country, and even jazz. The two connected on a 1997 John Lee Hooker session and have worked together intermittently since, both live and in the studio. This outing, tellingly released on the Concord/Stax imprint, strips the sound down, occasionally to just acoustic guitar and harp as on the opening of "Don't Think Twice," and the closing deep Delta blues "All That Matters Now," reworked into "It Hurts Me Too." But the duo also plug in for tough, rugged blues and blues-rock as on the heart thumping "I'm in I'm Out and I'm Gone," a twist on David Bowie's "The Jene Genie" riff that itself was nabbed from the Chicago blues catalog. Even with Musselwhite's substantial involvement, this is Harper's show as he produces, sings every song, and seems to be leading the music's direction with the harmonica player urging him on and adding to the already deep groove. They dip into harder rocking territory for the charging "I Don't Believe a Word You Say" with Musselwhite pulling out his Little Walter influences with electrified blowing. The skeletal, ghostly, repeated riff of the deadly gunslinger "I Ride at Dawn" is a stark reminder of how less is more as Harper's slide enhances the dangerous elements reflected in the song's ominous lyrics. The six-minute title track -- the disc's longest cut -- is classic Harper, marrying a funky bassline with the declaration expressed in the song's title as Musselwhite takes a few licks from Paul Butterfield to edge the track into a laid-back red zone where the singer typically thrives. But the twosome have some fun, too, in particular on the spirited, easygoing, sexed-up blues "She Got Kick," one of the few instances where harmonica is not an integral component of the mix. Ultimately, Get Up! earns its titular exclamation point as a successful combination of two talented veterans feeding off each other's dusky, creative spirit.
review by Hal Horiwitz