A Home Divided
“A house is a home, even when it’s dark,” harmonize Ben and Ellen Harper to open their joint album Childhood Home, but how homey does their newest release sound? Ben Harper has made a cross genre name for himself within recent years, having collaborated with big names like The Blind Boys of Alabama and more recently Natalie Maines of country rock powerhouse Dixie Chicks. His newest collaboration lands a bit more close to home, namely his musician mother Ellen, who was a primary influence in Ben’s formative years and introduction to music.
Home sees the Harpers turn to minimal folk as a means of expressing the sentimentality in regards to, well, Ben’s childhood home, and the other motifs related to growing up. Some tracks are gorgeous in their Americana minimalism, like “Memories of Gold,” in which Ben’s profound lyrics mixed with his mother’s harmonies produce a track not only perfectly executed but also deeply introspective.
At the same time, however, while continuing to be instrumentally excellent, much of the album sounds like filler content-wise and shows a certain carelessness in the crafts on the part of Ben and Ellen. Outside of production, the record comes off as unfinished in this regard; one cannot help but feel an additional effort could have been put into the album in innovative songwriting, given Harper’s extensive history in the craft and the ample source material to be drawn upon, given the concept of the album.
Despite these shortcomings, the timing of this release close to Mother’s Day coupled with the pleasant concept of a mother-son album (an idea that was a long time coming, according to Ben’s account) make for some pleasant, pre-summer folk music. Outside of its relevancy as a seasonal release, however, this release is definitely one of Ben Harper’s tamer, more vanilla records.