The Ben Harper Thread

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    The Ben Harper Thread

    One of my favorite discs of the year so far is the collaboration LP "Get Up!" by Ben Harper & legendary harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite.  The grooves, the energy, and the soul are all there in buckets, and while Charlie features very prominently, this is still largely run by the irrepressible, prolific, restless troubadour, Ben Harper.

    I first caught on to Harper with The Will To Live LP in 1997, which seemed small but epic, folky but brash [the zep homage - "Faded"].  He is a guitarist of pretty high renown, even earning 'virtuoso' status from a few writers.  He can write and play, no doubt; but the heart imbues his best work with elements of gospel and the notion of the blues (and rock) as an inspirational medium and a Marley-esque conscience.  

    As a personal favorite, I love turning others on to him, but it's a challenge of where to begin.  He can switch styles on a dime, inducing musical whiplash, and no one album is representative of the "Ben Harper Sound"...he's worked with various bands and the live stuff - while uniformly great - often reworks songs.  And the guy gets around.  A lot.  And so much is like a great leather jacket that gets better as it gets worn.

    Some have called him too preachy.  Even as an agnostic, I don't really mind, since music is more of a faith for me anyway.  And he's much more of a rocker than assumed. My ideal mix would span his 20-year career to this point and mix a few of the well-known tracks with the album cuts:

    Walk Away, Fight For Your Mind, By My Side, Glory & Consequence, Serve Your Soul, Burn One Down, Diamonds On The Inside ["I met a girl / Her name was Truth / She was a horrible liar..."], Better Way, Pleasure & Pain, Number With No Name, Fool For A Lonesome Train, Lay There And Hate Me, Get There From Here, etc., etc. and almost anything from either Live From Mars [see: "Faded/Whole Lotta Love"] or Live From Montreal.  

    So, we can make this the Ben Harper thread and open up to the forum.  What do you think?  Yes, No or Meh-be...?  

     

     
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    Re: The Ben Harper Thread

    In response to MattyScornD's comment:

    So, we can make this the Ben Harper thread and open up to the forum.  What do you think?  Yes, No or Meh-be...?  



    Good luck getting a response.  I'm not sure there were many that were intrigued by this album when I posted on it a while back, but I'm happy to hear it's on your "bests" thus far in 2013.  What surprised me at the time was seeing the length of Harper's career.  I had no idea.  He seems mature and at the same time youthful, which might come from the love of being a musician.    Maybe he's too mellow for some of the tastes on the forum?  

    I thought it would draw more interest due to Charlie Musselwhite and some of the blues fans here; I learned more than a thing or two reading about their collaboration and how long it was in the works.    

    Seems like a great way to get to know him would be to see him live, which would probably be a blast.   He's playing at the NOLA Jazz/Heritage Fest -- too bad he's not playing Newport Jazz Festival.    I can't give him a rating -- certainly am not "meh" -- I'd like to give him more of a chance.   Does it help that I think he has a beautiful aura?  :)

     
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    Re: The Ben Harper Thread

    In response to yogafriend's comment:

    In response to MattyScornD's comment:

     

    So, we can make this the Ben Harper thread and open up to the forum.  What do you think?  Yes, No or Meh-be...?  

     



    Good luck getting a response.  I'm not sure there were many that were intrigued by this album when I posted on it a while back, but I'm happy to hear it's on your "bests" thus far in 2013.  What surprised me at the time was seeing the length of Harper's career.  I had no idea.  He seems mature and at the same time youthful, which might come from the love of being a musician.    Maybe he's too mellow for some of the tastes on the forum?  

     

    I thought it would draw more interest due to Charlie Musselwhite and some of the blues fans here; I learned more than a thing or two reading about their collaboration and how long it was in the works.    

    Seems like a great way to get to know him would be to see him live, which would probably be a blast.   He's playing at the NOLA Jazz/Heritage Fest -- too bad he's not playing Newport Jazz Festival.    I can't give him a rating -- certainly am not "meh" -- I'd like to give him more of a chance.   Does it help that I think he has a beautiful aura?  :)



    Admittedly, there is a lot to absorb.  He seems to be one of these artists who are incapable of sitting back on their laurels.

    The "mellow" tag is likewise frustrating to me, as if he were some kind of Mraz-fedora-wearing surfer dude.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  (threadbait!)

    OTOH, the Fistful Of Mercy album he made with Dhani Harrison (son of George) and Joseph Arthur WAS rather mellow and harmony-heavy, but that was the intention...a sort of updated Traveling Wilburys.  Given general high regard for the latter, I recommend it even though I don't think it's Harper's best work.

     

     

     
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    Re: The Ben Harper Thread

    In response to MattyScornD's comment:

    Admittedly, there is a lot to absorb.  He seems to be one of these artists who are incapable of sitting back on their laurels.

     

    The "mellow" tag is likewise frustrating to me, as if he were some kind of Mraz-fedora-wearing surfer dude.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  (threadbait!)

    OTOH, the Fistful Of Mercy album he made with Dhani Harrison (son of George) and Joseph Arthur WAS rather mellow and harmony-heavy, but that was the intention...a sort of updated Traveling Wilburys.  Given general high regard for the latter, I recommend it even though I don't think it's Harper's best work.

     

     

    First, let me say that I didn't say Ben Harper was mellow, but rather asked, if he was possibly too mellow for some of the forum members in general.    I do agree, either way, that the descriptor 'mellow' isn't on the mark, while at the same time, it wasn't a putdown coming from me.   Neither was the comment about his aura (I really do think along those lines) hokey as it may seem.  

    Sometimes, it's not easy being late to the party re: a musical artist.   The difficulty with an artist that's been out there for 20 years or so is that one's limited exposure means familiarity with only a limited part of their catalogue, and potential  cluelessness as to how eclectic the artist might be.     Lots of Harper's most popular songs are folky blues jazz -- in other words, he can't be pinned down.  It's hard to know his full scope of talent,  without having been a fan or follower.  

    The funny thing is, he's far from obscure, yet, is it a matter of "you either know him well, or you don't know him at all"  ??     

     
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    Re: The Ben Harper Thread

    In response to yogafriend's comment:

    In response to MattyScornD's comment:

     

     

    Admittedly, there is a lot to absorb.  He seems to be one of these artists who are incapable of sitting back on their laurels.

     

    The "mellow" tag is likewise frustrating to me, as if he were some kind of Mraz-fedora-wearing surfer dude.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  (threadbait!)

    OTOH, the Fistful Of Mercy album he made with Dhani Harrison (son of George) and Joseph Arthur WAS rather mellow and harmony-heavy, but that was the intention...a sort of updated Traveling Wilburys.  Given general high regard for the latter, I recommend it even though I don't think it's Harper's best work.

     

     

     

    First, let me say that I didn't say Ben Harper was mellow, but rather asked, if he was possibly too mellow for some of the forum members in general.    I do agree, either way, that the descriptor 'mellow' isn't on the mark, while at the same time, it wasn't a putdown coming from me.   Neither was the comment about his aura (I really do think along those lines) hokey as it may seem.  

    Sometimes, it's not easy being late to the party re: a musical artist.   The difficulty with an artist that's been out there for 20 years or so is that one's limited exposure means familiarity with only a limited part of their catalogue, and potential  cluelessness as to how eclectic the artist might be.     Lots of Harper's most popular songs are folky blues jazz -- in other words, he can't be pinned down.  It's hard to know his full scope of talent,  without having been a fan or follower.  

    The funny thing is, he's far from obscure, yet, is it a matter of "you either know him well, or you don't know him at all"  ??     



    My 'mellow' crack wasn't aimed at you...more at the vaguesayers.  Sorry if you took it that way.

    Agreed that back catalogues can be daunting.  Wilco is another example given how much their sound has evolved and/or shifted over the years.  But my view is there's no shame whatsoever in being "late to the party" provided one is open-minded enough to appreciate the scope and context from whence it came.

    After all, there are lots of artists from the 60s and 70s who were well before my time and/or past their creative prime, but it never stopped me from embracing the sounds as I heard them.  Naturally, we often don't know what we don't know; ergo, we don't know what we've heard until we hear it. 

    Circling back, the interesting thing about Ben Harper is his overt reverence and respect for the elder generations of artists and his desire to showcase his influences.  Hence, the collaborations with Charlie Musselwhite, with the Blind Boys of Alabama, with the Funk Brothers (as part of the superb "Standing In The Shadows Of Motown" tribute)...even writing and recording a couple of tunes with Ringo Starr.

    As per our recent "roots rock" discussion, Harper is among the rootsy-est while still trying to innovate.

     

     
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    Re: The Ben Harper Thread

    In response to RidingWithTheKingII's comment:

    Good guy, inrteresting songwriter, but I get sort of bored with it after a while. The songs sort of bleed together for me.  Honestly, my only interest in their work was when he hired his bud Marc Ford to tour with the Criminals in 2003 and 2004.

    That's sort of how I started paying attention. Good live show, though.

    He can play a good lap slide too.  He did something recently, it was a tribue to Neil Young that ws on Palladia, I think. It was a very good collection of artists overall and he tweake the arrangement on Ohio which Neil wrote minutes after the Kent St shootings. It was really well done.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPZRV27yakU

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8-E8Tw-pIM

    And of course, at their peak with the great Marc Ford on lead:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAnlXD9Gaag

    Always like Amen Omen a lot. Good tune.  Live at the Hollywood Bowl from 2003 I think is a good live documentation when he was with the Criminals.

    Haven't heard much of him since but I remember reading about the Musselwhite project.  He does a lot of cool collaborations. 

     



    Great post.  Thanks for sharing.

    On the lap slide, I had read that he often uses a Weissenborn guitar, which apparently is difficult to play and hard to find.  It has a unique resonance, esp. solo.

    Maybe someone who's more musically educated than I can elaborate....

    I'm a fan of Marc Ford as well.  Very under-appreciated, IMO.

     

     
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    Re: The Ben Harper Thread

    On the heels of the YLT "new" band sidebar re: decisions:  Harper is just a bit more of a challenge, b/c he's an "add" in a way, and not as much organic attachment (sorry to sound hokey) as let's say the Yo La's are (for me).   I have no problem jumping in, at least in theory.   This is why I would most seriously consider the brand new collab. album with Musselwhite, because it's the one I know most about; the reception for the album has also been pretty nutty, too (in a good way).  

    I'll have to listen to a few of the clips Riding/King was good enough to stick into his post.   Since part of Harper's stock in trade is collaborations, the timing of the new album does seem like the most opportune place to start. 

     

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