Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ben Harper - The Will To Live


Years ago, in the deep, dim memories of my past, I remember someone describing Ben Harper as a 'blues Bob Marley'. I always thought it to be a huge statement, especially given the Marley legacy.

So really, is Ben Harper the blues Bob Marley?

He certainly is a bit of a stoner, at least, judging by the cover of The Will To Live. (If that man isn’t off his face, then I’ve never done drugs either).

But does this mean he's as good as Bob?

Then there are his obvious skills with the guitar. Of this there's no doubt. He plays a mean slide guitar and can sing a decent tune too. He also comes across as a real nice, down to earth bloke, in a chilled, ‘hey dude’ kind a way.

But does this mean he's as good as Bob?

He even has a reggae styled song, called Jah Work, although it's what I'd call reggae-lite. Not really reggae, not Marley reggae, but alright none the less.

It's nowhere near as good as anything Bob did.

I guess Ben’s claim to fame is he inadvertently started a bit of a trend, one of the troubadour guitarist, with a band of musical mates sitting around a camp fire on a beach, playing tunes to pretty girls after the sun goes down. People like Jack Johnson and Donovan Frankenreiter owe him a bit of a nod.

I really like the first track. In fact, I think I bought the album for the first track. I also really like his playing, although it's fairly predictable. The thing I don't like about this record is too many of the songs just kind of start, cruise through and finish. There's none of the dynamics I really love about contemporary music, the hushed verses shifting to uplifting choruses or spun-out middle eights. Nope, Ben just kind stays on the cruisy level, content to just lowride on by.

From all this, one thing is particularly clear: I can honestly say I haven't listened to The Will To Live once since Mine and Yours, truly, amalgamated our collection, which is something I absolutely cannot say about Marley.

VERDICT: THROW IT OUT (but be gentle, man) Peace


OK, confession time again. I'm not that fond of the blues. When I hear those guys (and it's mostly guys) I just want to tell them to cheer up, you know? However, it's not a genre I dismiss altogether, as there are some very fine bluesmen and some very fine blues albums.

But this is not one of them. It's an early album for Ben Harper and didn't get him much attention in his home country. I can't fault his musicianship, and he does know how to write a pretty melody. But as I've said before, I'm all about the lyrics, and he falls down on those. To start with, he mixes his voice right down so it's lost amongst the instruments, plus he's a slurrer of words. Even in the very last song, I Shall Not Walk Alone, where he's accompanied by just a quiet guitar/piano combo, I seriously had to Google the lyrics to discover what he was singing. I got the "Only tears/ Speak from my heart" but then "Break the chains/ That hold us down" sounded to me like "Beak na sheen/ That who us dah". So, unintelligible, with lyrics that are, frankly, uninspiring. Oh, apart from the title track which is quite nice. (Note the damning with faint praise there).

That said, the lovely guitar-playing and the pretty tunes make it good background music. So if you own a bookshop or a cafe, where you want the music to please and not alarm, I can highly recommend Ben Harper. What it's doing in our collection, I have no idea.

VERDICT: THROW IT OUT (after maybe iPodding for a dinner-party playlist)

For more information:

In our collection we also have Diamonds On The Inside, though I'm wondering why...

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