If Bruce Springsteen is the closest thing American singing/songwriting has to Bob Dylan then the closest thing to 'The Boss' this generation is Ben Harper. With a legendary legacy of lyrics and a genuine genre mix of everything from rock to blues, soul, funk and the spiritual this is one of today's artists that have everything. Still it's this versatility that leaves him vulnerable to the length of his talent being disregarded or underrated to some degree. Harper even reckons himself that in this iTunes age of cherry-picking tracks those looking for some hard rock and finding a slow burner or vice versa could be easily put off.
That's why with his first compilation, Ben Harper releases his greatest hits of ballads with 'By My Side'. With a great album to match a good idea (he should do a 'by my amp' rock hits record next, perhaps called 'Shimmer & Shine') Harper gives us a dozen dutiful, beautiful ballads spanning his classic career. It all begins with the lasting 'Forever' and ends with a wild, awesome new track 'Crazy Amazing'. The compilation title track 'By My Side' off the iconic album 'Fight For Your Mind' paints us an audio descriptive picture of this compilations tone. One of a loyal love of closeness and togetherness.
'Gold To Me' shines in all it's glory on this picture podium retrospective of Harper's deepest and best work. While there's more shimmer on shine on the iconic, fan favorite, cult classic 'Diamonds On The Inside'. The gleam doesn't stop there as the Innocent Criminals assisted 'Lifeline' album cut 'In The Colors' adds more art to this albums canvas. It's in the final half dozen of this perfect playlist that the music gets it most beautiful and poignant though.
'Beloved One' off 'Burn To Shine' ignites with sweet, slow soulful beauty on a glowing, laid out bare song for lovers. It's the ultimate dedication like the in good and bad, sickness and health 'Not Fire, Not Ice' which is given a new studio take for this release. The single off Harper's 'Give 'Till It's Gone' album release last year (which was the first solo and one of the best of his career in a long time), 'Feel Love' and the sensational spiritual 'Waiting On An Angel' round this release out nicely and sweetly. On this record the bands-men who is no stranger to hard rock shows like his friend Ringo that all you need is love.
The real highlight of this greatest hits package however belongs with two records of his finest, defining album 'Both Sides Of The Gun'. Sure a number of tracks like 'Waiting For You', 'Picture In A Frame' and 'Reason To Mourn' could have made it on to this set-list (as could greats like 'The Woman In You', 'When She Believes' and 'Pray That Our Love Sees The Dawn') but Ben's best track 'Morning Yearning' really shows him between strings and violins at his deepest and most beautiful.
If you remember the vivid visual that matched the gorgeous tone of this track in the musics video then you may remember that the late, great actor and friend Of Harper, Heath Ledger (rest peacefully) directed this cinematic feeling classic. Well Harper returned the favor by writing a lovely lullaby ('Happy Everafter In Your Eyes') for Heath to sing to his daughter. That's here too and completes this classic collection. The 'Innocent Criminal', with a 'Fistful Of Mercy', whose rocked with the 'Blind Boys Of Alabama' and a 'Relentless 7' has more groups to his name than social networks. Still before embarking on a solitary tour, Ben go's it alone on this solo stroll through his discography. Harper shows us with 'By My Side' just why he'll keep more fans close to him throughout the rest of his legacy making career. TIM DAVID HARVEY.