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Album Review: Ben Harper and Relentless7 – White Lies for Dark Times

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Ben Harper has been around for ages. However, he consistently finds ways to put out music that feels fresher than most of the muck in today’s music scene, he’s headlining just about every music festival worldwide, and he’s never sold himself out. What percentage of artists can say all of these things? With White Lies for Dark Times, Harper continues to surprise us, as he’s assembled quite possibly his strongest band ever (Relentless7), and certainly his most rocking.

Opening up the album are the swampy sounds of “Number With No Name”. The track combines Harper’s extremely bluesy vocals with twangy, thick guitar work and a drum beat that drives the track. Guitarist Jason Mozersky is a more than adequate sidekick to Harper’s guitar work, and often pushes Harper to play heavier than ever, such is the case here.

White Lies… continues the heavy energy with “Up To You Now”. Bassist Jesse Ingalls really shines here with  slower, but equally heavy lines that supprt Harper’s soaring vocals as he screams out, “Wrote a list with all your demands/and you nailed it to both of my hands/and it’s up to you now.” “Shimmer and Shine”, the first single released months ago, is another standout. While the track’s harder than the first two, Harper finds his first positive vibe on the album, as he maintains his awareness of the problems, singing, “Bring me the music for the revolution/it puts my mind at ease to know we’re the problem/we’re the solution, the cure and the disease.”

“Lay There and Hate Me” raises the band’s spirits and instills some soul, while Harper comes to truths (“Never trust a woman who loves the blues”) and realizations (“I feel like an underpaid concubine who’s  overstayed her welcome”). The song is immensely catchy, so don’t be surprised if it’s the next single. What’s great is that this positivity keeps going. If you think the album had any intention of slowing down yet, you would be extremely wrong.

“Why Must You Always Dress In Black” is fast and frantic. There’s a light touch to it, however. The guitar and bass bounce all over the place, while Harper unleashes another vicious attack on a lady: “Friday you up and quit/Saturday you want your old job back/Sunday morning you wake up, all dressed in black.” The bluesy guitar work seems worthy of Josh Homme (of Queens of the Stone Age fame) and only adds to the blues-like tendencies this album carries.

After the pounding, “Skin Thin” sounds like a smooth cigarette on a cool summer night. The band finds its softer side, as Harper whispers out, “Always knew if we didn’t have each other we’d have nothing at all.”  The beautiful track ends as the band backs up Harper’s vocals with exceptional-yet-quiet melodies. Recent single “Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart)” finds Harper trying to find his inner Lenny Kravitz. The guitar work goes back and forth between Mozersky and Harper, and it’s often very difficult to tell the two apart. The interplay between the two very talented musicians has them trading solos, all before the song kicks back into a nearly thunderous, but never muddled finish.

Just in time for June, “The Word Suicide” is a Bonnaroo-certified jam, riddled with group vocals and guitar solos. Harper covers octaves while declaring that “love is a lonely road.” Instead of serving as a rocking bookend for the album, closing track “Faithfully Remain” is a bit of a downer, a beautiful downer, but a downer nonetheless. The album fades out with sobering lines like, “My memories they turn to tears/they turn to fire, blood and pain/and I faithfully remain.”

Over the years, Harper has played with many musicians, ranging from John Paul Jones and Ringo Starr to ?uestlove and Rahzel. This extensive catalogue of musical knowledge has led him to choose a wonderful group to put around him, and one would be foolish to skip on the chance to see him rocking at any number of festival appearances this summer. Do it.

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