I enjoy good ol’ beer-in-hand Rock and Roll music, and unfortunately what we’re told is “Rock” these days (Nickelback, Hinder, etc.) seems to want to substitute straight-forward rock power and that beer-in-hand feeling with sappy, horrible lyrics, tacky musicianship and a nice cold wine cooler. Luckily there are bands out there who don’t shy away from what Rock and Roll should be, and this album is a throwback to those days when great rock music wasn’t only played on Classic Rock stations.
Ben Harper is a musician who always seems to have a lot of balls in the air. He records music with an eclectic feel, covering blues, rock, and even gospel at one point in his career. Though what can be determined surely is that Harper is a hell of a guitarist and musician overall. Having only listened to his 2006 album “Both Sides of the Gun,” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect here, but what I got was an absolute treat.
The album starts off with “Number With No Name,” a bluesy-rock song that has a procession to it that is very catchy and, at some points, almost sounds like a country song. Harper dives right into quality lyrics, “The very thing that drives you might just drive you insane” along with other lyrics makes this a very strong starting track. “Up To You Now” slows things down already, but by the time “Shimmer and Shine” comes on, Harper and the boys are already back in our faces, and this song is where the album’s title, “White Lies and Dark Times” is pulled from. It’s an upbeat song, a real toe tapper, and again lyrics are strong.
Then we come to what I believe is the album’s strongest track, “Lay There and Hate Me.” It’s a fantastic blues song that even warns us to “Never trust a woman who loves the blues.” It’s in this song where Harper’s vocals really shine as well, as he’s leading us through the song, there’s a passion within them that lights the song from the bottom, until it becomes a raging inferno of music, and Harper implements some very good slide guitar action about halfway through, giving this intense song a soul.
“Skin Thin” slows things down down again, and is an acoustic ballad that is very effective at changing the pace of the album. That is a thing this album does seamlessly–transforming us from hard rock tracks to more mellow music, but it is balanced and presented in such a way that we never feel like a severe or drastic change is taking place just for the sake of filling out some type of quota. “Fly One Time” keeps the album on the mellower side of things, but its soulful and powerful nonetheless.
“Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart)” is a terrific song that gets us back into the hard blues rock side of things, and after the two previous songs, it hits us like a strong cup of coffee in the morning. The lyrics seem to be a little tongue in cheek at times, mentioning that he can’t decide what’s more puzzling, that he keeps talking to a wall or that it keeps answering.
We hit a very heavy, slow, and cumbersome song in “The Word Suicide,” and the title is indeed the subject matter. It’s a powerful song, one that doesn’t shy away from the topic or try to put a romanticized spin on it. The album ends with “Faithfully Remain,” another wonderful song and a great way to end the album. It slows things down, and sends us of into the sunset with our heads held high.
1. “Number With No Name” (+)
2. “Up to You Now” (-)
3. “Shimmer & Shine” (+)
4. “Lay There & Hate Me” (++)
5. “Why Must You Always Dress In Black” (-)
6. “Skin Thin” (+)
7. “Fly One Time” (-)
8. “Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart)” (+)
9. “Boots Like These” (-)
10. “The Word Suicide” (+)
11. “Faithfully Remain” (+)
This album is one of the more effective blendings of slow and hard rock music that I’ve heard recently. Each song is distinct, lyrically well-structured, and musically diverse. When Blues music can hit all these notes, it’s on the right page, as Harper and this band prove, it’s possible. Another major positive is that Harper’s lyrics are very clear, and as a listener, you’re actually able to hear what he’s saying. He has particular inflections that he uses, each effectively and well-timed. I would recommend this album to anyone looking for some good old fashioned blues-rock mixed with introspective soulful rock.
- 11 Quality Songs
- Harper’s lyrics
- Well-balanced tracklisting
- I’m seeing them live next Saturday
- I don’t know how regularly Harper and Relentless 7 are going to produce music, so this theoretically could be their only album.
Score: 8/10 (Great)