Two legends team up again
Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite are an unlikely pair of talented musicians. Harper is a prolific singer and songwriter, known for his soulful voice, eclectic slide guitar playing and political activism. Musselwhite is a legendary bluesman and harmonica player. The two were first introduced by John Lee Hooker, another blues giant, and immediately hit it off. They released a record in 2013, entitled Get Up, and the extensive touring that followed its release made the two men even closer friends. Four years later, the pair has teamed up again to release a new album, No Mercy In This Land, which Harper describes as a record made “by two musicians who have lived.”
The first thing that stands out about No Mercy is that it’s unabashedly a blues album. Harper’s guitar playing is the focus of the instrumentals, whether acoustic or electric. A rhythm section rounds out the sound, but the guitar is the dominant force here. Melodically, it’s a heavenly call and response between Harper’s raspy vocals and Musselwhite’s downright dirty harmonica playing.
The album does a good job staying balanced, having a good mix of slow ballads and upbeat rockers. Songs such as “When Love Is Not Enough” and the title track rely solely on acoustic guitar, while others such as “Bad Habits” and “The Bottle Wins Again” bring the electric attitude. The lyrics are pretty standard blues fare, tackling topics such as alcohol, heartbreak, and simply having the blues.
The real “problem” that lies within this record is Musselwhite’s presence on it. He’s listed as a co-artist alongside Harper, but often he is just relegated to ‘responding’ to Harper’s ‘calls’, which gives off the impression that this is a Ben Harper solo record on which Charlie Musselwhite just happens to be featured. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the music is objectively good. Fans of either artist, as well as blues in general, will enjoy this collaboration. No Mercy isn’t any genre-busting or innovative album: it just sounds like two legendary artists having fun doing what they love. And that’s never a bad thing.