Harper hits highs and lows
GIFTED slide guitar guru Ben Harper is back with an honest 10th album.
The recent and very public breakdown of his five-year marriage to actress Laura Dern informs much of this grubby, emotional set.
Thankfully, it’s not all depressed grumbling and groaning. Harper often rises above the mess to come off sounding defiant, perhaps even confident, about a better future.
There’s a fine example of this on the corner where moody meets angry, a tune called I Will Not be Broken. It’s a sad but brilliant minor-key waltz where he croons his guts out and lets fly with his guitar.
This 11-song record is made up of mid-tempo rockers and confessional slow jams. It is most fun when Harper’s enviable guitar chops are put front and centre with a face-melting solo.
Inspired by the legend Neil Young’s Rock ’ n’ Roll is Free, Harper and his crew deliver urgent, freewheeling, full-force, blistering rock-blues.
On the raw Dirty Little Lover, his anger reveals its ugly head again but Harper’s well considered, tightly written lyrics allow the song to make the jump from bitter to intense.
Although primarily a rock album, it crosses a bunch of genres like blues, folk and soul.
Harper’s soul searching is put on hold for two songs with Beatle Ringo Starr. The drummer makes a considerable imprint on the standard Harper sound pallet, pushing him into new territories with excellent results.
These two songs are programmed one after the other on the tracklist and they make up 11 of the best minutes on Give Till It’s Gone.
It starts with Spilling Faith, a very Beatles-like song. It’s everything you’d imagine a Beatles v Harper battle would sound like. However, Spilling Faith is eclipsed by its sister tune – the far more ambitious and loose instrumental Get There From Here.
It’s noisy and bold and sounds like it may have been completely improvised. This is the best use of each player’s considerable talents.
Pray That Our Love Sees the Dawn features succulent vocals by American singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, no surprise really as the album was recorded in guess whose studio?
Give Till It’s Gone is an album of highs and lows. Harper wallows in despair one minute and then kicks some butt the next, often with a heady lap steel guitar solo.
Harper spent last year working with Joseph Arthur and George Harrison’s son Dhani as Fistful of Mercy. This year he is back to doing what he does best.