Winter Is For Lovers
Anti / Epitaph
If this lockdown hasn’t already recalibrated how we feel and what we know is real then I’m painfully aware of that now as I throw almost my full support behind a brand new Ben Harper album.
I’ve hated Ben Harper for a lot longer than I ever liked him – his smug gurning and his desperate head-shaking in the vague direction of soulfulness. Fuck that guy. And the slide guitar he rode in on.
But wait. Here he is solo – and all-instrumental. No cloying lyrics and no painful bleat of a voice. No cod-reggae grooves. No plodding, bar-room rockers, no beer-hall blues dirges.
I’ve always tolerated Harper in collaboration, his duets albums work best – there was the Blind Boys collabs, they were fine enough. And then the record with Charlie Musselwhite was okay. And I particularly liked the one with his mother.
But here Harper is sublime playing slide instrumentals, it’s more a sketch-book than an album. These feel like rehearsals for music-cues for a PBS documentary. And I in no way mean that as a bad thing.
I’m reminded of some of the moments from Richard Thompson’s Grizzly Man soundtrack for instance. And of course Ry Cooder’s soundtrack work is another obvious touchstone.
There’s something far deeper here than I’ve ever heard in Harper’s work before. And across 15 songs, in just 31 minutes, he takes me places where I want to be. The only transporting I’ve wished for previously with Harper is to find the exit.
If this lockdown has recalibrated how we feel and what we know is real then it’s so obviously apparent in Harper’s subtlest, finest work. Here we can hear him beguiled by the sound of the lap slide guitar that has so captivated him (Manhattan). There are solos only occasionally, but when they arrive they are exciting, dextrous and melodious (Bizanet). There’s also the obvious association – these tracks are all named after places – that the evocations here are as much about allowing the mind to travel, since that’s currently the only option. So there’s pathos, there’s humility and there’s a soul-searching wonder captured here (Toronto).
Again, I think that Harper shows here a wonderful musical empathy consistent with the best modern film composers. Someone give him that gig. He’s done enough here to show he might be on the cusp of a major career-pivot.
Winter Is For Lovers is beautiful. And I never thought I’d say that about a Ben Harper album. There.
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