Editor's Note: This review is part of a series of albums and artists nominated for 2007 Blues Music Awards (full list of nominees). Charlie Musselwhite is nominated in the following BMA categories: Album of the Year, Instrumentalist of the Year - Harmonica, Song of the Year, Traditional Blues Album of the Year, Traditional Blues Male Artist of the Year.
There are some familiar motifs and rhythms that any longtime blues listener can spot from a mile away.
Fats Domino might not be the first artist to make use of the bass line to "Blueberry Hill," but variations upon the theme have anchored countless blues cuts over the decades and the Willie Dixon-penned, Muddy Waters classic "Hoochie Coochie Man" has been ripped off and re-written more than that. These are but two examples that have formed the basis of thousands of songs, extending back to an era when liberally borrowing from friend and competitor was not a fast track to an instant lawsuit.
Charlie Musselwhite uses familiar blues devices in unfamiliar ways on Delta Hardware. He reaches back to his roots for inspiration, but this is no nostalgia record. Some blues albums are so overtly blues, they could never be mistaken for anything else. Some blues artists use their music as a means of exorcism and catharsis and there will be no subtlety in the music, delivery, or subject. That kind of rawness is one of the distinctive and most engaging aspects of the genre.
However, it is possible to make a blues record with nuance and Musselwhite does that here. He is mining his roots for inspiration, but the influence is not painted on the walls. Muddy Waters' classic tells us "The Blues Had a Baby and They Named it Rock and Roll." With Delta Hardware, Musselwhite has adopted that baby and taken it back home. Instead of filtering the blues through rock and roll, rock and roll is being channeled through the blues. The traditional elements in these songs could have led to pleasant, fun, but obvious music. Here, it feels fresh and vital. This is still the blues, but not in all the obvious ways.