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Born in Mississippi, raised in Memphis and seasoned in Chicago, Musselwhite has followed a career path that mirrors the historic and geographic trajectory of the blues itself. It's no wonder, then, that his vocabulary covers a wide spectrum of styles within the genre. In a dozen tracks, Rough News encompasses traditional blues, Texas swing, rockabilly and touches of jazz.
Northern and Southern blues traditions are well-represented in the Chicago shuffle of "Rough Dried Woman" and the gritty Tex-Mex edge of "Natural Born Lover," which features Fabulous T-Bird Kid Ramos on lead and rhythm guitar and Los Lobos' Cesar Rosas on slide. Musselwhite takes his sound a step further on the evolutionary chain with the bouncy, hiccupping rockabilly beat of "Drifting Boy," while "I Sat and Cried" features handclaps and backing vocals reminiscent of countless old Stax/Volt sides.
A few Latin strains even make it into the mix with "Feel It In Your Heart" -- featuring a swampy, churrango-driven backbeat -- and an authentic cover of Santo and Johnny's instrumental ballad "Sleepwalk." In the down-home blues tradition, "Rainy Highway" fares better than "Darkest Hour," in which Musselwhite doesn't conjure up quite enough vocal angst to match his dirge-like guitar work. But it's a minor shortcoming that is immediately eclipsed by the steamy, jazz-noir "Harlem Nocturne" and the equally jazzy title track that closes out the album.
Rough News could serve as a primer for any newcomer to the blues, yet is likely to satisfy long-time Musselwhite fans as well.
-- John C. Bruening