"Sanctuary" is more than the title of Charlie Musselwhite's new CD. "Sanctuary" is also what he hopes it becomes.
"These are dark times," says Musselwhite, long one of the great blues harp players. "People need a refuge, a place they can sort things out and find some healing.
"I hope this record can be one of those places."
Musselwhite puts enormous faith in the power of music. He felt that power when he was a teenager in Memphis, he says, when he got to play with some of that city's elder blues statesmen, such as Gus Cannon, Furry Lewis, and Will Shade of the Memphis Jug Band.
He felt it again when he moved to Chicago and sat in with Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.
And he still feels it today, he says, a few weeks past his 60th birthday, with "Sanctuary" due out April 6.
"When you're playing," he says, "it's a feeling you can't put into words. I've played with artists in other countries where we couldn't talk to each other, but we could play music."
Musselwhite fans should not, however, expect all party music.
The "Sanctuary" tunes are slower and more reflective, like Ben Harper's "Homeless Child," Townes Van Zandt's "Snake Song," and Musselwhite's own "My Road Lies in Darkness."
"It's different than a lot of my music in the past," says Musselwhite. "It has a quieter sound. It's more serious. It reflects that darkness.
"I'm playing the harp differently, more tonal. It's all about capturing a feeling."
It's also, he says, about hope.
"People think `The blues, oh, it must be depressing.' But that's not what the blues are about. You might have a hillbilly song where a man's girl left him and he decides to jump off the bridge. With the blues, he goes out and finds a new girl. The blues are about hanging on."
Musselwhite should have no trouble hanging on with the Sanctuary Band, which includes bassist Jared Nickerson, drummer Michael Jerome, and guitarist Charlie Sexton, who is coming off a long run with Bob Dylan.
"The great thing about playing with guys like these is that you're not limited to that three-chords-and-eight-bars blues formula," Musselwhite says.
"I've never liked those kinds of restrictions. I like stretching out. The blues should be able to go wherever the feeling takes you."