Artists in today’s music scene often reinvent themselves or redefine their music as a way to stay relevant; to keep up with the changing trends in popular music and ensure that their albums will still be plucked from the shelves. More often than not, it ends up being cheap ploys of amped-up sex appeal or auto-tuned vocals that leave you slightly nauseated at the thought of what’s to come.
There are exceptions, however, and no doubt Ben Harper is one of them. Since his beginning nearly 20 years ago, Harper has been a master of slide guitar, a heart-on-his-sleeve acoustic songwriter, a funk-rock jammer and a blues ambassador. And unlikely as it would seem, each one gets better than the last.
For his 10th studio album, Give Till It’s Gone, Harper has proved himself a chameleon one more time; bringing a mixed bag of all his various personas which sums up to be both heavy-hitting, heartfelt, and extremely enjoyable.
Having shed the array of bands that have accompanied him for albums and tours in recent years, Give Till It’s Gone was written during a recent dark time in Harper’s life as he split from wife and actress, Laura Dern. As a result, it features some of his most intimate song-writing to date.
The opening track, “Don’t Give Up On Me Now” crashes in with a heavy and sombre guitar that drives the song as to suggest a bluesy sequel to 2009’s White Lies for Dark Times. But any suspicion is quickly quashed by “I Will Not Be Broken”, a straight-faced testament to Harper’s resilience to endure the darkness as he sings “I’ve come too far to give up/ Or to be turned around / I will not be broken/ I will not go down.” Harper trades lyrics line-for-line like Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” and even breaks through with an auto-tuned guitar solo that screeches emotion better than any lyric could.
But it’s not all solemnity and pain. In “Rock N’ Roll is Free”, a song inspired by Neil Young, Harper successfully channels his old fashioned inner-rocker and brings the noise with roaring guitars and hopeful verses for brighter days. “Feel Love” shouts back to the days of Fight for Your Mind with a folksy acoustic and Harper’s signature lacerated vocals.
Ex-Beatles drummer Ringo Starr co-wrote and performs on tracks “Spilling Faith” and “Get There From Here”, both laced with psychedelic jams reminiscent of Diamonds on the Inside.
What Give Till It’s Gone turns out to be is a beautiful medley of everything Ben Harper, which is a lot. It’s a one-size-fits-all for every fan he’s earned from every genre. It’ll be sure to appease anyone in search of more rocking guitar riffs that we came to know and love during the days of the Innocent Criminals and Relentless 7, while simultaneously managing to be more accessible to fans of his softer side.
Give Till It’s Gone peels off another layer of Ben Harper and reveals even more depth in an already profoundly diverse musician. You almost feel bad getting this much pleasure out of his pain.
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