Album Review 2: Ben Harper - 'Both Sides of the Gun'
By Trent McMartin Mar 24, 2006, 18:05 GMT
Split onto two discs, these 18 songs could have fit on one. It\'s a testament to Harper\'s aesthetic sensibilities that it is so configured, thereby both avoiding the scourge of the overly long album and dividing the raw, pummeling rockers from the ballads. With his band, the Innocent Criminals, he tears into such songs as "Get It While You Like It" and "Engraved Invitation" with Rolling Stones Exile-era verve. ...more
Since landing on the scene in the early nineties, singer-songwriter Ben Harper has always done things his way.
His blend of alternative rock, reggae, gospel, folk, blues, soul, funk, and everything else in between, has earned him accolades and acclaim from all corners of the music biz (including opening slots with the likes of Pearl Jam, the Fugees, REM, John Lee Hooker). With limited chart success (his highest charting album was 2003’s Diamonds on the Inside, which topped out at #19 on billboard) and a devoted fan base, built largely through incessant touring, Harper has proved to be one of America’s most inspiring and important artist’s.
Now with his new album, Both Sides of the Gun, Harper continues his quest to break down musical barriers by incorporating all his varied musical tastes and influences onto two separate discs, one soft and one rock-based.
On the harder edged CD, Harper kicks off with the sunny eastern flavoured “Better Way,” the first single off the album and easily the catchiest song on the record.
“Take your face out of your hands/And clear your eyes/You have a right to your dreams/And don't be denied,” Harper sings on “Better Way,” right before the song ends in an unexpected drum march.
From there Harper begins to stretch his legs and become the Ben Harper his fans have grown to love. Moving from the heavily funkdafied title track to the Stones-like “Engraved Invitation,” (think of an edgier “Honkey Tonk Woman”) to the Stevie Wonderesque “Black Rain,” which is a look at the hurricane Katrina tragedy, Harper seems comfortable in any skin – be that of a protest singer, soul artist or hard rocker.
On disc 2, Harper quiets things down, barely registering above a whisper in some cases. With songs like “Morning Yearning,” “Reason to Mourn,” “More than Sorry,” “Happy Everafter in Your Eyes,” the instrumental “Sweet Nothing Serenade,” and the sadly touching “Cryin’ Won’t Help You Now,” Harper movingly bares his soul with a sense of frailty and strength. Disc two could easily stand on its own, as could disc one, but here it serves a purpose being the “yin” to Disc one's “yang.”
Both Sides of the Gun may be Harper’s most rewarding and fulfilling album to date. It suffers neither, from length, as many double albums do, or from bombast and pomposity (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness?). This is an artist who won a Grammy for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album in the past (for his collaboration with the Blind Boys of Alabama) so trying to confine Harper into any type of single category is foolish. For all things said, Harper is, despite all the needless classifications, just an artist – a true modern day renaissance man who finds beauty in all places, even in the most mundane aspects of normal everyday life.