Ben Harper‘s 9th original album Lifeline comes out today on Virgin Records. I’ve been appreciating the relaxed and spontaneous vibe, especially since I found out the story of its birth into this world: it came to be in Paris over a mere seven days, recorded straight to analog tape after being worked out and perfected during soundcheck rehearsals on tour.
I am excited about this one, as I’ve written a couple of times before; there are some delicious songs on it. Here’s a live version of the title track, from a bonus acoustic EP download that you get when you order the new album from his website:
Lifeline (live) – Ben Harper
Do the kids know and love Ben Harper nowadays? I can’t tell if the flippant comment from a friend is indicative of larger public sentiment — but I still remember discussing Ben with a pal named Mike who loves good music. With a wave of his hand, Mike dismissed Ben as a stoner hippie festival-type musician. I vehemently objected to this unfairly narrow categorization (although hey I’ll admit those are three things Ben does do exceedingly well).
Ben incorporates elements of funk, gospel, rock, and soul into his music. His lyrics have a depth of poetry and a political/social edge to many of them, but he also writes the introspective, personal, relational lyrics heartbreakingly well.
I first heard Ben when he opened for Pearl Jam on their 1995 tour. He would join PJ for closing renditions of “Indifference” or The Byrds “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star.” His early albums are embedded deep within my musical consciousness. I feel like I had less music to listen to back then, before the Internet, when I could only afford a handful of albums each summer, so I listened the bejesus out of both Welcome To The Cruel World (1994) and especially Fight For Your Mind (1995).
Ben’s put out fantastic albums in the last ten years, but the most radio buzz that I remember him having was when he played slide guitar on Jack Johnson’s breakout hit, “Flake.” The first time I heard that song, sitting at the stoplight on El Camino, waiting to turn left into my University for an early morning class, I thought for sure it was new Ben Harper and was truthfully kind of peeved when it was this Jack fella instead. Ah well.
In case that’s all you remember of Ben from the last few years, I’ve put together a little collection of Harper goodness — your ears will thank you.
TWO HANDFULS OF BEN HARPER –
On the one hand we have some revisions of his originals . . .
Steal My Kisses (Neptune Beat version) – Ben Harper
Better Way (Peace Mix) – Ben Harper
Like A King (Dust Brothers mix) – Ben Harper
Faded (4Hero’s Dollis Hill Groove) – Ben Harper
And on the other hand, some fantastic covers that Ben has applied his unique stamp to . . .
The Drugs Don’t Work (Verve cover) – Ben Harper
Sexual Healing (Marvin Gaye) – Ben Harper
Satisfied Mind (Hayes/Rhodes) – Ben Harper & The Blind Boys of Alabama
Indifference (Pearl Jam cover) – Ben Harper
Michelle (Beatles cover) – Ben Harper
Ben is a man possessed when he plays the slide guitar. I’ve seen him live a half a dozen times or more, and he always deeply impresses me with his skill and his almost transcendent passion while he improvises and wails on his instruments. He is soulful, mournful, and slack-jaw-inducing impressive to witness. He’s on tour now with the talented Piers Faccini [previous mention], coming through Boulder this weekend (same night as Wilco, I am torn).
Check Ben out in his slip-slidey-guitar element here on the “Ground On Down” video. This is still one of my absolute favorite Ben Harper tunes of all time, back when he’s rocking it old school with the pigtails:
BEN HARPER, GROUND ON DOWN (1995)
Other video: Rolling Stone called the song “In The Colors” (off the new album) a “ladies’ choice” tune, and I can definitely see that — Ben gets all feisty and playful with an early-morning sunshine feel to the song. The minimalistic video for “In The Colors” was directed by the Malloys, of Woodshed Films/Brushfire Records fame. The Malloys also did this much cooler video for “Diamonds On The Inside” (2003), showing Ben’s loves of surfing and sick arm tattoos:
DIAMONDS ON THE INSIDE VIDEO (Ben Harper + Malloy Brothers)
And finally, Ben just wrote an interesting feature for the New York Times this week about music he digs. He says of Ryan Adams, “The lyrical prowess with the sense of melody, the depth of honesty with levity, the soulfulness with hauntedness â€” it’s all the stuff I want to listen to. . . I was first pulled in when a friend first gave me his disc four years ago. I started listening to everything he put out. I sure have played ‘Easy Tiger’ (Lost Highway) a ton. It won’t leave my rotation; it’s holding. I could go on about him because he’s what modern music â€” popular music â€”needs to sound like.”
The article also discusses his affinity for Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, The Nightwatchman (aka Tom Morello), and Money Mark. Read it here.