CD Review of White Lies for Dark Times by Ben Harper and Relentless7
Ben Harper and Relentless7: White Lies for Dark Times
Recommended if you like
Robert Randolph, Jimi Hendrix, Widespread Panic
Virgin Records
Ben Harper and Relentless7:
White Lies for Dark Times

Reviewed by Greg M. Schwartz

en Harper has been rocking the planet with his trusty backing band the Innocent Criminals since the mid ‘90s. While many would subscribe to the theory that if it ain’t broke you shouldn’t fix it, Harper has always been a guy who seems to march to the beat of his own drummer – so it shouldn’t be a shock to see him wanting to try something a little different, which he’s done here by putting the Innocent Criminals on hiatus and stepping out with a new band comprised of some old friends.

Harper first met guitarist Jason Mozerksy in the late ‘90s after the singer of Mozerksy’s Texas-based band was a driver shuttling Harper to a gig and asked Harper to check out his band’s demo. Harper dug it, and helped the band score a record deal. They broke up after one album, but Harper and Mozerksy remained friends, and now they’ve teamed up with drummer Jordan Richardson and bassist Jess Ingalls for one of the most sizzling albums of 2009.

The band’s sound shouldn’t be judged as better or worse than the Innocent Criminals; it’s just a little different, the main difference being that there’s less funk and a more of a hard-edged delta blues rock sound. But Harper’s distinctively soulful voice, emotional songwriting and scintillating slide guitar are still all over the album.

Opener "Number with No Name" is a mid-tempo rocker that announces a bluesy sound from down south, and features a smoldering slide solo by Harper. "Up to You Now" ventures into more groove-based territory, with the guitars leaving lots of space for the floating bass line and Harper’s haunting, soul-searching vocals.

It’s easy to see why "Shimmer and Shine" was selected as the lead single; it features Harper at his hard-rocking best, belting out a bluesy anthem that seems aptly named for the way his guitar and voice dazzle on the tune. Richardson’s tight drumming propels the track, while Mozerksy and Harper play off each other in a timeless groove.

"Lay There and Hate Me" simmers down a little, but still provides a toe-tapping beat which recalls a mid-‘70s soundtrack with organ work and atmospheric wah-wah complementing each other. "Why Must You Always Dress in Black" is a bluesy, four-on-the-floor stomp, with Harper and Mozerksy meshing their guitar parts with down and dirty harmony. "Keep It together (So I Can Fall Apart)" keeps that guitar-driven vibe going with more wah-wah rooted in Jimi Hendrix’s "Voodoo Child." The tune also features some instant classic lyrics: Harper sings, "I’m not sure what worries me more / The fact that I’m talking to a wall / Or that the wall keeps answering me."

"Fly One Time" is a true standout, starting off slow and building in anthemic style as Harper sings an ode to the difficulty that can be encountered in navigating the nebulous path from one’s past to an uncertain future: "Now you’re caught between / What you can’t leave behind / And all that you may never find / So fly."

"Boots Like These" is another smoldering blues rocker with more great percussion work from Richardson, who adds some groovy conga sounds while Mozerksy hits the wah-wah again and Harper slides into a spacey neverland. "Faithfully Remain" is a perfect album closer with Harper at his down-tempo, melodic best while pondering one of life’s timeless questions: "How long can you pray / And still not see a change / I faithfully remain."

Harper may be mixing up his bandmates here to keep things fresh and explore some new musical pathways, but he hasn’t gone off the deep end in a totally different direction like, say, Chris Cornell (whose electronica album is as far from Soundgarden as you can get.) So don’t worry, Harper fans — as he sings on the closing track, Harper has remained faithful to the vibe that’s made him one of your favorites.

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