Ben Harper is a mercurial talent. He goes his own way and bugger the critics and damn me if he doesn’t get it right time after time. The first time I saw him was supporting Marylin Manson and Metallica in front of 80,000 rampaging metallers at Milton Keynes and he has continued to buck trends and stick two fingers up to the naysayers ever since. Here he has teamed up with Charlie Musselwhite and the result is an album of stunning gospel and down home Blues, effervescent and telling at the same time. |The two of them played on one of John Lee Hookers last recordings and they have been trying to find a space to make this album ever since but it feels as though they both arrived at the right plkace at a good time.
If you are going to record with a legend like Charlie Musselwhite there is no point in using him sparingly and that familiar howling harmonica seems to underpin every track but it’s never overused – it fits perfectly. As an example listen to the fury of ‘I Don’t Believe A Word You Say’. The band are tearing it up with Jason Mozersky’s guitar and Harper’s slide to the fore but under it all and punctuating every phrase is THAT harp – take it away and the track loses most of its impetus. Then listen to the next track ‘You Found Another Lover (I Lost Another Friend)’. The harmonica is almost a whistled refrain behind Harpers keening vocal and gentle acoustic.
As always with Ben Harper he writes about the emotion and the human condition but this pairing seems to have brought something extra out of him – he is writing music here that is not just for a theme or for his band but that allows another artist to share the plaudits. He did something similar with the Blind Boys of Alabama a few years back and it brings something extra out of him.
Every track tells a story and the title track and ‘I Ride At Dawn’ are both strong statements about the individual fighting against the iron hand of authority, something Harper has always championed.
Musically, his band are in a great place and this is one of the best albums I have heard from Harper. It really is essential.