One of the signs of a great artist is to see them stretch beyond their comfort zone and succeed. When you think of Charlie Musselwhite, you think of one of the great blues harmonica players of the 20th century. The idea of a great Musselwhite song without a blistering harp solo seems inconceivable. Even if the idea occurred to someone, it would seem like one of those ideas you'd hurriedly forget because there just doesn't seem to be any point to it. I guess it could be possible, but why try it? Why mess up a good thing?
It turns out there's more to Musselwhite than just his harp. He's not a great singer in a classical sense, but like so many veteran artists, he's learned to interpret songs within the scope of his vocal ability. For Charlie Sexton's "The Neighborhood," he set down his harp and invested himself in his vocal. With the guidance of producer John Chedow, Charlie Sexton creates a brooding, evocative sonic backdrop for his rich composition and Musselwhite is given a chance to prove he can shine without his harp in hand.
The narrator of the song tells us "I know what's next, I don't even try to fight it/ just about invite it" and that he can feel it coming in the chorus. He doesn't tell us what's coming, but he tells us so much by trying to tell us nothing in the words or with his voice. By keeping his voice expressionless, he communicates his resignation to whatever awaits him. Sexton's killer harmony vocal gives the song a slow burn, buoyed by the atmosphere of the song.
"The Neighborhood" isn't an example of an old dog learning a new trick so much as it shows us that he doesn't need them. I'd be sad if he put down his harmonica forever, but with material this good he can certainly set it down for a song here and there.