Thursday, 8 May 2014
REVIEW: BEN & ELLEN HARPER-CHILDHOOD HOME
Heart Is Where Harper Is.
Mum's the word. They say behind every good man is a woman and behind musics modern marvel Ben Harper is Ellen. Ellen, working at a music store in Claremont, California's Folk Music Center and Museum would get help off a young Ben after school like a good son does. Yep, that's right this is a family affair and the decades lasting institution of inspired music that Harper's grandparents built is still an influence today in more ways than one. It obviously had its effect on one of America's formative singer/songwriters and best icon out here at the moment of this genereration. As the Sprinsgteen chasing Harper has built his stellar songbook and classic catalogue off the experiments with all sorts of instruments in store and the then up and coming company of musicians Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. Today the great solo artist Harper has collaborated with almost everybody on an amazing array of albums from 'The Will To Live' to 'Both Sides Of The Gun'. Right now he's even on an acoustic tour supported by Tom Freund who he worked with on his official 'Pleasure & Pain' record debut. He's also waxed lyrical with The Innocent Criminals and The Blind Boys Of Alabama, while forming brilliant bands with Relentless7 and Dhani Harrison and Joseph Arthur for Fistful Of Mercy. If as many albums as years for the last half decade, with an eclectic mix of epic talent wasn't electric enough, Ben has coloured his world with a blues Grammy Award for his last album. A 'Get Up' collaboration with legend Charlie Musselwhite and judging from the 'I Trust You To Dig My Grave' live sets you can expect a sequel album soon. Still, with all this being said and done his twelfth album and seventh collaboration might be his most magnificent one just in time for American Mothers Day. Collaborating with his mother Ellen Harper, Ben takes us back to his 'Childhood Home' for his most personal and powerful album to date.
"A lifetime in the making" is how Ben describes this pure project to Rolling Stone, with the woman that brought him both into this world and the one of music. From it's blue sky, winter warming, snow draped, white house cover of his home from youth you know for the record this is going to be something truly special. Over amazing acoustics, more California soul than Ashford and Simpson and harmonies that haunt like a gracious ghost, the 10 tracks of years and tears that Harper and Harper have been talking about for almost as long finally works itself out to one of the best albums of a yeaar of 'High Hopes' and the best sounding and most inspired unique collaboration since Harper's female equivalent Norah Jones and Green Day's Billie Joe-Armstrong collaborated 'Foreverly' to cover The Everly Brothers 'Songs Our Daddy Taught Us'. This is more than just a dedication to his mom on this special day. With Ellen Harper singing, strumming and showing us she's an amazing artist in her own right this is a true testament to family and one of the most important records in terms of music and family that you've heard in years...if ever. No one does it like Ben and just when you thought he'd run out of ideas, albums and collaborating acts he takes it home and knocks it out the park. With ten original and outstanding tracks we see and hear that even here mother knows best as Ellen write six of the songs to Ben's four, but this shared project is a match made in heaven sent, family fondness. Sure this is a true Ben Harper album even if his solo credits are outweighed by his collaborative ones but boy is it much more than that too. It's the realest duet album you've heard since Marvin and Tammi bared their soul. As these folk explore the comforts and conflicts of home and family life they give us something we can all relate too in harmony in all it's beautiful nostalgia.
This is more than just another Ameican classic. This is a lifes work that translates through no matter what the land or background. You can hear it as these words fall pleasantly on your ears and see and feel it as the tears roll down your cheek to the words of the opening 'A House Is A Home' that takes Luther Vandross break-up classic to another coming together route over the wood of the acoustics. As the pair of parent and child sing "a house is a home even when there's ghosts/even when you gotta run from the ones who love you most/screen door's broken paint's peeling from the wood/locals whisper when they gonna leave the neighborhood/a house is a home where the chores are never done/where you spend your whole life running to and from" it's clear that even with the differences of family there's a kinship of understanding between these two that can help us relate to more than just them but our own too. Helping hands are also lent to the beautiful 'City Of Dreams' that is an inspired look of how a young mans dreams of freedom can sometimes lead him to a life he never imagined for better or worse from the "day breaks over the city of my childhood". With lasting lyrics like, "twilight shades the valley of my memory/when citrus groves still perfumed the sky/but i guess those orange blossoms weren't so special after all/now it's a city of days gone by" this stars novel songbook has never read so storied. The same can be read for 'Born To Love You' as Ben's wonderful writing is reborn with "some born to lose, some born to win/they say we're all born into sin/that's a hard way to begin, but I was born to love you" being an amazing addition to the classic couplets of reason and rhyme that this musical genius educates us with each album. The 'Heavyhearted World' continues this real coming of age tale, while the 'Farmer's Daughter' midpoint of this album takes us back to the prolific protest of Harper who welcomed us to the 'Cruel World' but believed in a 'Better Way'.
The roots of this family tree continue to grow where they are planted on the 'Memories Of Gold' that shine brightly through the winter worn working testament of Ellen warning us, "we're always broke and live on dirt and water" on the bluegrass bango predecessor. This track blooms like the perfect for Christmas firs that accompany his old homes front. The 'Altar Of Love' also leaves us with a matrimony of family feeling music that engages us in all it's loving and evoking spirit. This country ballad will have you moving your feet in a waltz to it's perfect signature that Ellen has told press focuses on the "duality of love and human nature". There's more human sides of love and life on the emotional 'Break Your Heart' that let's us live and learn all about the heart of life all the way to the fact you will 'Learn it All Again Tomorrow' in another captivating classic. This simple but sublime set of the complicated and basic natures of the human heart in relation to love and family is the perfect honest and heartfelt tribute to family and also this sacred day of the calender year, making it much more than just the perfect gift for the weekend. There's no cashing in or selling out here just a singer on top of his game taking it back to the roots and the heart of matters, whilst revealing to us a true artist that was playing with more bands than Ben's recorded with before he even tuned his first gig guitar. As the two share a stage on his current tour and all their studio space we feel more than just their collaborative bond, but their family one too that burns bright like the morning snow breaking sun on this classic cover of simple but amazing artwork that opens up this album. Mother and son welcome us in to their home all the way to the formidable family finale of 'How Could We Not Believe' that is as truly a religious experience as close as family can get and as Ben opens up to start this record he's never sounded bolder or better. Alongside his proud parent who he's even more prouder to share with us he's never given us a better look into his life and legacy than this. Just like playing a guitar that belonged to his great grandafather in concert this is more than just the legend that their half-century store has given the Harper's and us in all it's inspired influence. This is the testimony of family and in this month there's no dedication as beautiful. To you and yours from his and her, Happy Mothers Day! TIM DAVID HARVEY.