In 2013, Ben Harper did something that nobody saw coming. He teamed up with Charlie Musselwhite to record Get Up!. It was Harper's eleventh studio album and Musselwhite's twenty ninth! Musselwhite was 68 at the time while Harper was 43. But what may have seemed an unlikely pairing turned out to be an amazing match. Get Up! won a Grammy for Best Blues Album in 2014.
According to an article in Rolling Stone, the two met in 1997 when they were recording "Burnin' Hell" with Musselwhite's long-time friend and legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker (Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite Get up! - Will Hermes 1/29/2013). According to Hermes, it was John Lee Hooker that noticed the chemistry between the two artists and encouraged them to make some music together.
Musselwhite is a legendary blues harmonica player and singer / bandleader. He has played with the likes of the aforementioned John Lee Hooker, as well as, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Howlin' Wolf, Big Joe Williams, Bonnie Raitt, Blind Boys of Alabama, Tom Waits, and INXS. In 1969, he began recording with his own blues band and released the iconic blues album Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite's Southside Band (Vanguard Records). Musselwhite has won 14 W.C. Handy Awards, been nominated for Six Grammy Awards (the Grammy with Harper was his first win), and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010.
Five years and one shared Grammy after the release of Get Up!, the friendship has grown and Harper and Musselwhite have regrouped to record a batch of new songs for the album No Mercy In This Land.
Harper has always been one of those hard-to-categorize artists. He's seen critical acclaim throughout his diverse career. He's been labeled blues, folk, soul, reggae, and rock. On No Mercy In This Land, Harper and Musselwhite tap into all of these different influences. It's definitely blues, but that soulful, traditional, almost gospel sounding blues. As their friendship matured so did the collaboration, and these songs are both personal and spiritual in a way that is really special.
One never knows if an album will have the same reception and accolades as its predecessor, but if you like the blues, or Musselwhite's or Harper's solo work, then you will be very satisfied with this album. It's much more than a blues enthusiast record. And of course, it sounds amazing on vinyl!
B.T.R.C. - David W. Williams
1 When I Go
2 Bad Habits
3 Love and Trust
4 The Bottle Wins Again
5 Found the One
- Side B -
1 When Love Is Not Enough
2 Trust You to Dig My Grave
3 No Mercy in This Land
4 Movin' on
5 Nothing at All
The 10-song No Mercy in This Land is a frequently bleaker follow-up to their 2013 debut as a recording duo, Get Up! That upbeat collection of Chicago and Delta blues won the Grammy for Best Blues Album. It was Harper's third Grammy win, but the first for Musselwhite, after 10 previous nominations... While Harper usually has his projects planned a couple of albums out, he says writing for No Mercy in This Land demanded all his attention. "This is the first time that's not the case. First time in 24 years. I unloaded on this one, man. I got nothing but this," Harper says. "Every ounce of my writing intuition and the creative process went into this material, cutting versus adding, just fine tuning. I didn't want to hear about any other songs."