Talking the Talk, Light on that Walk
Ben Harper is a guy who wears his musical intentions on his sleeve. Sometimes he’s feeling political (Fight for Your Mind), other times pained (Welcome to the Cruel World). He’s often hopeful (The Will to Live) and endlessly romantic; he’s even tried reverent (There Will Be a Light). So what was Ben’s mood when he gathered together a few past tourmates to form a new backing band, Relentless7? He just felt like rocking out.
Or at least that’s what the word on the street was. The album White Lies for Dark Times was billed as nothing but some good ol’ carefree loud blues rock, the exclamation point being a circulated band photo featuring Harper doing his best Kurt Cobain impression, leaping in the air and slamming down a Fender Stratocaster like a wrestling opponent. Ben Harper fans, already aware of his ability to completely shred, began to salivate immediately at the thought of Harper temporarily ditching his inner Romeo for a turn as Rambo instead.
However, White Lies proves to be slightly ironic in name and sound. The album is notably heavier than usual, at least sonically, but offers enough of Harper’s traditionally gentle material to expose him in the middle of a little fib.
Opener “Number with No Name,” radio single “Shimmer and Shine,” “Keep it Together (So I Can Fall Apart),” and “Boots Like These” answer the call, as bruising licks and badass swagger prompt more than their fair share of air guitar opportunities. “Keep it Together” specifically blends the power of Harper’s slide-guitar screech and hoarse scream into a piece of electric blues beauty. The rest of the tunes, whether louder (“Up to You Now” and “Why Must You Always Dress in Black”) or unexpectedly softer (“Skin Thin,” “Faithfully Remain,” “The Word Suicide”) are vintage Harper. Clever, thoughtful, and even gentle, they’re all enjoyable but don’t expect every one to be ended by a sledgehammer guitar smash.
Expectations aside, White Lies is a quality addition to Ben Harper’s impressive catalog, never straying from interesting songwriting or its deeper message of maintained hope in the face of hardship. Unfortunately, you just can’t help but think of that photo and dream of what an entire album of Harper gnashing his teeth and coming completely unglued would sound like.