Not unlike musical forefather and mentor Taj Mahal, Ben Harper has always been one of those musicians for which genres were a means to an end versus a way of defining oneself. For his latest outing, he's put regular sidemen the Innocent Criminals on the backburner and instead hooked up with Relentless7, a Texas trio better known as Oliver Future. The change of personnel seems to have reinvigorated Harper, who displays quite a bit more attitude in his playing and songwriting.
The sludgy swamp rocker opener "Number With No Name" sets the tone with heaps of fuzzy slide guitar that gives way to other heavy fare like "Shimmer & Shine," a perfect blend of agit punk rhythms and acid rock that suggests a blending of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Buzzcocks. Elsewhere, the aggression generated by Harper and his new bandmates yields "Why Must You Always Dress in Black," a sneering shuffle that's got Slim Harpo's DNA all over it and "Lay There & Hate Me," a vitriolic slice of simmering funk. Harper doesn't totally go off the rails — there's still a decent share of softer, soulful juxtapositions gilded by his thoughtful croon. "Skin Thin," a glimmering ballad, finds the Southern Californian framing his musical introspection in a gorgeous blanket of twang, as does the gentle closer "Faithfully Remain," a plea for emotional redemption delicately goosed along by a Wurlitzer and spare timekeeping. Throughout, Harper ends up with the musical equivalent of a B-12 shot being given to the high level of creative prowess that's come to be expected from him. (Virgin)
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