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Ben Harper - Both Sides of the Gun

Ben Harper, Both Sides of the Gun

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

BEN Harper describes his new double album Both Sides of the Gun as his most accomplished, exciting work to date.

Never one to traditionally favour the double album approach, he felt compelled to divide it into ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sections because of the clear divide that existed between the songs. Hence, the Foo Fighters approach works really well, providing fans with a veritable feast from the artist – a scintillating and thought-provoking blend of rock, soul and folk music.

What’s more, Harper claims to have benefited as a singer from the time he spent working with the Blind Boys of Alabama (on There Will Be A Light), as well as the current political climate in America.

Tracks like Black Rain, for instance, were written in direct response to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

Says Harper: “I had to make the picture as clear as the event,” says Harper of the string-powered slice of soul. “Because if that can happen here – that disregard for human life – and we allow that to happen to the citizens of this country, then all bets are off.”

Needless to say, Back Rain is one of several emotive tracks on the softer, second CD – although everything that Arthur does on this album screams out quality, integrity and ambition.

Both Sides of the Gun flits between moments of serene beauty, such as Cryin’ Won’t Help You Now, an acoustic driven folk song that recalls the mournful sorrow of Clapton’s Tears in Heaven, to the feel-good vibrancy of Better Way, with its urgent rhythms, energetic slide guitar and general message of defiance.

Harper says he has always been one to ‘lean on the side of positivity regardless of how dark the hour’ and in Better Way is clearly having a good time despite spouting lines such as ‘what good is a cynic with no better plan?’ or ‘take your face out of your hands and clear your eyes, you have a right to your dream so don’t be denied’. His message is one of hope but it seldom sounds preachy, patronising or misguided; rather inspiring and energy infusing.

But don’t go thinking the album is merely just another political statement at a time when it seems fashionable in all forms of entertainment to point-score and have a say.

Harper does well to mix the messages with equally candid observations on life in general – whether in the forms of ballads or livelier rock outs.

Several tracks recall the out-and-out passion of the Stones at their best, whether it be the blues-laced old-school stomp of Please Don’t Talk About Murder While I’m Eating, or the rousing Engraved Invitation, especially during the vocally layered chorus that recalls Jagger’s Gimme Shelter.

While the quieter moments also deliver their share of highlights. Sweet Nothing Serenade is the type of track that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, courtesy of its beautiful guitar work, while both Morning Yearning and Waiting For You effortlessly display Harper’s ability to tap into matters of the heart, setting some poignant lyrics around some virtuoso guitar and strings.

And then there’s the funky side to the artist, with tracks such as Both Sides of the Gun, which owe a lot in composition to the ultra-hip shuffles of Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder.

With so many tracks to choose from and so much diversity to admire, Harper’s Both Sides of the Gun effortlessly showcases an album at the peak of his form. We hope this review will trigger you into rushing out and buying it. It really is one of the records of the year.

Track listing:
Disc 1:

  1. Morning Yearning
  2. Waiting For You
  3. Picture In A Frame
  4. Never Leave Lonely Alone
  5. Sweet Nothing Serenade
  6. Reason To Mourn
  7. More Than Sorry
  8. Cryin’ Won’t Help You Now
  9. Happy Everafter In Your Eyes

Disc 2:

  1. Better Way
  2. Both Sides Of The Gun
  3. Engraved Invitation
  4. Black Rain
  5. Gather ‘Round The Stone
  6. Please Don’t Talk About Murder While I’m Eating
  7. Get It Like You Like It
  8. Way You Found Me
  9. Serve Your Soul

Disc 3:

  1. Gather ‘Round The Stone
  2. Reason To Mourn
  3. Get It Like You Like It
  4. Waiting For You
  5. Morning Yearning
  6. Beloved One