August 28, 2007

Not talkin’ bout a year, no not three or four: My ongoing love for Ben Harper

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.

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

And finally, I love his song version of Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise“:
I’ll Rise – 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:


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 — 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 — popular music —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.

[top photo credit]

Tagged with .
July 30, 2007

Monday Music Roundup

Home again, home again, jiggety jig. I had a fantastic loooong stretch in California this past week-plus. In addition to seeing two unbeatable concerts and witnessing a cousin get married off in a burst of winery festivities, I also got to see lots of old friends, swim in a bonafide swimmin’ hole up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, chat up an old neighbor we call Larry Woodstove and find out the haps in the ‘hood I grew up in, eat my favorite gelato twice and In ‘N’ Out three times, discover a little Italian pottery and antique shop, sit burn on the beach in Santa Cruz, and spot this bar sign (I love taking the scenic route):

I found time to duck into Amoeba Records in Berkeley and Streetlight Records in San Jose. I drove many miles of California highway, waited approximately 832 hours for flights, and I’m pretty sure that some of my underthings were swiped from my luggage by a Transportation Security Administration minion. Never pack em in the outside pocket.

It’s good to be home. I’ve got a backlog of blog posts built up in my head, and a bunch of great music to share with you all.

Put It On Me
Ben Harper

Hot dang, the new Ben Harper is an absolute scorcher. I literally kept saying “holy crap!” out loud when I listened to tracks like this one, a funky soulful feisty downright boogie. Dig the Isley Brother guitar riffs, the dirty piano, and the full gospel backing vocals. Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Lifeline is out August 28.

Diamond Hoo-Ha Man

Astute NME readers will note that “Britpop veterans” Supergrass opened for Arctic Monkeys this weekend and played a few new songs, which, of course, sent me out on the hunt to hear them for myself. Supergrass just helped me out in my quest by posting a live mp3 on their site of this new dense White-Stripey-rocker tune. I’m not sure how the protagonist here got access to a diamond hoo-ha, but I’m sure he’s not complaining. If you dig this sound like I do, sign up for updates on their site. Supergrass have completed their latest album and are mixing it this summer in L.A.

Let The Music Play
(live with Marc Broussard)
G. Love
and Special Sauce
There’s a certain kind of special, laid-back fun that goes along with a G. Love concert. Philadelphia roots-rap-soul-funkster Garrett Dutton (but you can call him G. Love) can wail on the harmonica, lay down the smooth beats, twist a clever lyric, and always, always make me dance. He’s got a new live tour documentary A Year and A Night out tomorrow on Brushfire Records (watch the trailer here) and there’s a bonus live CD that comes packaged with it. This sizzling live version of “Let The Music Play” (originally on last year’s Lemonade album) features tourmate Marc Broussard, whose new album also I keep hearing good things about.

The Honey Month
Augie March

Last time I was out in California my brother and I were heading downtown to the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego and he popped in a mix CD he was currently digging. In addition to lots of Mason Jennings (you’re welcome, little bro) most of it was tunes from Australian megagroup Augie March, who are just starting to make a dent in the American market. My brother will be jealous to hear that I plan to check these guys out at a rare U.S. show this week at the Boulder Records & Radio summit, and will report back my findings. Their “new” (to these shores) album Moo, You Bloody Choir (and no, I don’t know what the title means) is out August 7. It’s a rich and literate album, with this track fairly oozing the figurative honey cited in the title. Pitchfork calls a very apt comparison by likening the work to mid-Nineties Grant Lee Buffalo and yes, amen. A solid and multi-layered album that I look forward to exploring.

Josh Ritter

The new album The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter is miles away from 2006′s Animal Years, except for the common thread of some of the finest songwriting and lyricism in today’s folk/rock world. Similar to how I was surprised by the downright danceable boogie on the forthcoming Iron & Wine (previously offering mostly hushed, go-to-bed-alone music), Josh Ritter gets all Hall & Oates on us with horns, ragtime piano, and beats. I’ll be flogged in public for even suggesting this, but call me crazy if the melody on the verses here is a slowed-down echo of Britney Spears’ 2004 Mile High Club jam “Toxic.” There, I said it.

2007 is shaping up to be an interesting year for releases from artists we thought we knew. Everyone’s gettin’ all spirited-like, and I love it. Some of the songs on this album are more standard fare from Ritter, such as the shiver-inducing loveliness of “The Temptation of Adam” (which I saw him perform back in February) but overall — whew. I am impressed with this direction. Ritter just announced a huge string of tour dates and is absolutely worth seeing live, an energetic and masterful performer.

July 16, 2007

Monday Music Roundup

Sono distrutta this morning – a bit destroyed (it comes out in Italian, I don’t know why). But happily so, the after-effects of seeing a fantastic show last night with Ike Reilly and Tom Morello. More on that later, but portions were near magical. I will try to gather my Monday thoughts coherently on all of your lovely behalfs because there are some great new tunes this week.

Into The Colors [video]
Ben Harper
Soulful songman/insanely good Weissenborner Ben Harper is back with a hotly anticipated album Lifeline (due August 28th) and already garnering positive advance reviews. I find myself heartily enjoying this song from the opening notes — playful and smooth, possibly his catchiest tune since “Steal My Kisses.” For the love of all things holy, go see the man in concert if you can (a few festivals left this summer, and hopefully a fall tour in support of the new album). He fairly ignites in spontaneous combustion flames from the fervor of his virtuosity in playing, and I love it.

The Storm
Patrick Watson

Remember our good pal Jake Troth with the impressive potential? He recommended that I take a listen to this next artist and since I like Jake’s music, I promptly heeded his advice — and I’m really impressed. Patrick Watson is a musician out of Montreal, Canada whose 2006 album Close To Paradise slipped past me somehow. Man alive; close to paradise indeed. This is otherwordly stuff, haunting and melodic — like being trapped in Labyrinth, without David Bowie in spandex. And I’m not gonna solidify the most obvious comparison, but listen to those vocals; they bore an eerie resemblance to someone else I deeply love, pure and soaring and wrenching.

New Dark Ages
Bad Religion
Truthfully, I probably first heard So-Cal literate punk band Bad Religion at the implied behest of Eddie Vedder – in ’93 he loaned guest backing vocals to two songs on their Recipe For Hate album. And since ’94 I’ve really liked their single “Infected” (even with that whole rant in the middle about crucifixtion and other violent desires; it’s got an unbeatable riff). Bad Religion has been together since 1980, and their fourteenth studio album finds them still alienated and politically aware, but fiercely melodic and intense as always. Frontman Greg Graffin has one of the most distinctive voices in punk rock: it kind of reminds me of standing over an active volcano. New Maps Of Hell is out now on Epitaph, and was produced by Joe Barresi (Tool, QOTSA).

White Dove
John Vanderslice
This is a punchy cut off the fresh release from San Francisco’s John Vanderslice, in which he impresses me by (among other things) using the word veranda right off the bat and making it sound so lovely. I would like a veranda that overlooks the ocean. And maybe I’ve just got Ike Reilly on the brain, but the beginning is almost identical to “When Irish Eyes Are Burning,” although it morphs into something completely unique by the time the lyrics kick in. Emerald City was recorded mostly at Vanderslice’s all-analog studio Tiny Telephone (a dying breed) in the Mission District of SF, and is out July 24th on Barsuk.

Cigarettes & Gasoline
Emerson Hart
The former frontman of Tonic goes solo with this new release on EMI/Blue Note Records. Cigarettes & Gasoline is an intimate and well-crafted album from Emerson Hart which is loosely gathered around personal themes of his father’s unsolved murder and Emerson’s childhood associations with the man (cigarettes, gasoline). There’s a quality in his voice that draws out something from me — like sucking venom out of a rattlesnake wound. History: I’m undereducated on Tonic, but I remember not liking “If You Could Only See,” Tonic’s biggest hit, and also loving their song “Sugar,” which still makes me think of summers and all kinds of borderline nefarious activities. Hart’s new album is out tomorrow.

February 27, 2006

Monday Music Roundup

Well, I am safely back from my work trip/junket to sunny California with a touch of a sunburn and a smile on my face.
My flight home was canceled once we had already boarded the plane Friday night, so we all unwedged ourselves from our tiny seats, waited in an immense line for rebooking and our $400 travel voucher, and then proceeded to heartily make the best of it with some cool fellow young-’un passengers and the help of a cheesy bar at the hotel they put us all up at. It was like LOST, minus the crashing part, the black thing in the jungle that eats people, and all the freaky “coincidences.” But we had the camaraderie. And I apparently have brought back a slice of Cali with me because it is pushing 70 in Colorado today, and that is something to pause and enjoy. Life is good, kids.

Black Sweat
Oh yeah, I just posted Prince on my blog. Truth be told, the Great Tiny Sexy One kind of scares me (in the same vein as David Bowie in the underrated ’80s classic Labyrinth), but this song is funky and sexy and should make you stand up in your cubicle and kind of grind a little bit. Feel it. Just make sure the boss isn’t looking. From his upcoming album ’3121′, out on March 21.

I Need Someone
John Davis (formerly of Superdrag)
Okay, now stop gyrating your pelvis from the Prince bizness immediately because John Davis has found God and cleaned up his act. And he has been making some pretty dang sweet music since then. This is a live track from Maxwell’s on 4/8/05, right after the release of his self-titled album John Davis, which is just laden with harmonies, lovely piano, and some intelligent and introspective lyrics.

Sugar Blue Too
Jeff Finlin
This one comes courtesy of wonder-fan Vangelis who sends me good stuff from the scenic shores of Greece. Jeff Finlin was featured on the Elizabethtown soundtrack (I still have not seen that movie! Argh!) – and I like Finlin’s folksy Dylanesque-ballad Americana sound with the piano backing. The lyrics talks about ‘walking the streets so dark,’ and that is exactly what this song makes me think of. From his 2005 CD Somewhere South of Wonder. Thanks for everything, Vangelis.

Better Way
Ben Harper
This is the new one from Ben Harper, off his upcoming new album Both Sides of the Gun, due March 21. Ben Harper is one of my first and deepest musical loves, ever since he sang me a song for my 16th birthday. Yeah, we go way back. This song has a slightly middle-eastern feel to it, and listen to Ben crank it out towards the end. Check him out on tour, he is always amazing in his passion and his virtuosity with that Weissenborn.

Ryan Adams
from the Technical Cowboy Services Sessions
I think I love Ryan Adams the most when his voice cracks because he is not worried about perfection, he is worried about expressing his emotion. And that is a beautiful thing (and exactly what is wrong with most of the contestants on American Idol – the exception being Taylor Hicks – but that is an embarrassing sidenote best kept to myself, eh?). Thanks to Jennings for unearthing and posting the Cowboy Technical Services (mini) Session with Ryan Adams, containing this and two other great songs.

Now, doesn’t all that make the upcoming week seem a little bit brighter, tiger?

November 29, 2005

Undiscovered Gem #1

From time to time you unearth a song from an artist you know and love that has somehow escaped your notice. Hence the title of this post, an undiscovered gem.

I greatly enjoy Ben Harper, but never bought his Live From Mars album for some reason. Just came across the beautiful cover he does of The Verve’s “The Drugs Don’t Work” and I love it. Check it out.

“The Drugs Don’t Work,” Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals

Subscribe to this tasty feed.
I tweet things. It's amazing.

Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

View all Interviews → View all Shows I've Seen →