Sunday, May 01, 2016

Kat's Korner: Ben Harper serves up a minor masterpiece

Kat: If the last ten years have belonged to anyone in rock, the strongest argument could be made that they belonged to Ben Harper.

It's not just that he's got the charisma, it's also that he's got the chops.


With a grinding guitar and the sound of drums kicking in, the first track on the new album CALL IT WHAT IT IS kicks off:

we made everything we have
out of nothing at all
way back when marijuana
was against the law
we were always outnumbered
we were always outmanned
went down a road of ruin
but here we stand

i remember when sex was dirty

"When Sex Was Dirty" is Ben's hardest rocker on the album and that might irk fans of his classic BOTH SIDES OF THE GUN.

That 2006 release was a double disc set -- the first disc a little harder, the second disc a little softer.

It was perfection and remains one of the ten greatest albums of the '00s.

Since then, he's released several albums including the minor classics LIFELINE and CHILDHOOD HOME.

The only real rival to Ben in the last ten years has been Tori Amos -- and that's saying a lot for Ben that he's right up there with one of the last great performers carrying the flag for art.

CALL IT WHAT IT IS does not rank as something boldly audacious in the manner of BOTH SIDES OF THE GUN but it is another minor classic, eleven outstanding tracks which make a solid song cycle.

A minor classic is not a minor thing.

"Deeper and Deeper" may be one of his best tracks ever, with his confident vocal and the shimmering music.

the branches are black
and the tree stands bare
haunted by the bloom
that's no longer there
clinging to the ground
to grow another ring around

deeper and deeper until i drown
so hard going under without a sound

And his lyrics are to the point and hard hitting, like in the title track:

Trayvon Martin
Ezell Ford
Michael Brown
and so many more

government, policing, hard times,
oppression, racism, fear, suffering
ain't easy

gun control
mind control
we've dug ourselves a hole

call it what it is

As The Velvelettes used to sing, "He was really saying something."

"Goodbye To You" is among the best recordings he's ever done.

The sound throughout is supple and sparkling and he's reteamed with The Innocent Criminals for this album.  But it's more than that.  It's the way he's grown as a vocalist, the way he's grown as a lyricist.

It's the art he creates without pretension or irony.

CALL IT WHAT IT IS is an A-minus, like Joni Mitchell's FOR THE ROSES and if you've ever listened to that album, you realize what a compliment I'm handing out.