Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite Bring No Mercy to Knoxville


Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite Bring “No Mercy” to Knoxville

Grammy Award-winners Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite brought an exceptional evening of blues ballads to The Mill & Mine performance hall Monday, September 10th.

Having just released their second collaborative album No Mercy In This Land, Harper and Musselwhite bring a new and exciting energy to the classic sounds of the delta blues. Harper at 48 years old and Musselwhite at 74 display a vast appreciation to tradition all while adding an innovative twist to create a bluesy sound of their own.

The show kicked off with jolting guitar riffs and roaring harmonic tones immediately captivating the audience that filled what Harper referred to as “the jewel of the South.” Harper and Musselwhite spent the first half of the show seated giving the performance an authentic back-porch blues feel.

Next came a shout out to the bartenders with “The Bottle Wins Again.” “Make sure to tip your bartenders” said Harper. The song reveals some of Musselwhite’s past struggles with drinking which he describes in an interview with Rolling Stone. He specifically talks about his struggles to stay sober after the murder of his mother. Musselwhite’s hardship is the primary subject to the title track of their new album “No Mercy In This Land.” For Musselwhite music helped him stay sober during his grief. These aspects of Musselwhite’s personal life are evident in the powerful melodies from his harmonica and the pain behind his vulnerable blue eyes.

More stand-out moments from the show include a mind-blowing cover of Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks,” and watching Ben Harper play most of the show with a bloody thumb after one of his guitar strings snapped. Add a bloody finger to an already extraordinarily authentic performance and you truly have a one-of-a-kind show.

The encore featured a powerful performance of “No Mercy In This Land” and a raw finale of “All That Matters Now” with a bone-chilling acoustic serenade from Harper.

Between Ben Harper’s singing and sliding and Charlie Musselwhite’s wheezing and wailing, there is no shortage of soul in their performance. Like the nature of the human soul, Harper and Musselwhite present an evolving sound while remaining deeply rooted in old time blues. That said, their distinct and original sound makes them one of today’s top must-see blues acts.

Written by Marie Kolzow

Photos by Johnson Giles