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Album review: Ben Harper's 'Give Till It’s Gone'

May 16, 2011 |  6:37 pm

HARPER_2_ The 10th studio album from L.A.-based rocker Ben Harper suggests a cathartic confessional. Pointedly a solo effort (previous Harper albums have largely co-billed backing bands the Innocent Criminals and Relentless7), it’s also his last with longtime record label Virgin and comes after a very public split with his wife, actress Laura Dern.

As such, it’s easy to discern the raw emotions in songs such as “Don’t Give Up on Me Now” and “I Will Not Be Broken.” In “Dirty Little Lover,” he certainly doesn’t seem positive about male-female relations: “She is the kind of woman only a town like this could produce / just mean enough to hang a man / just kind enough to cut the noose.”

The lens of anger and regret, however, provides Harper a musical focus he’s never had. Previously, he’s displayed a weakness for rootsy, bar-band dynamics, hippie-ish homilies and pleasant yet indistinct vocalizing. Here, however, rage cuts through any sentimentality, from the distorted primal screaming on “Do It for You, Do It for Us” to the passionate, ragged glory of his searing guitar solos.

Indeed, going to the edge has clearly pushed Harper into fresh sonic realms. “I Will Not Be Broken” grows to a surprising surge that evokes Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky, while “Get There From Here” (featuring Ringo Starr on drums) evolves into a shimmering Krautrock synthesizer jam. “Clearly Severely” even evokes Bloc Party’s nervous post-punk, while “Rock N’ Roll Is Free” exudes both jangly Britpop swagger and the fuzzbox intensity of Bob Mould. If this represents the sound of pain and letting go — well, then, Harper makes it hurt so good.

Ben Harper
“Give Till It’s Gone”
(Virgin)
Three stars (Out of four)

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— Matt Diehl

 

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