1. Who is the band? What is their history? What motivates them?
“In what may possibly be the greatest "how the band formed" story ever, Harper met guitarist Jason Mozersky in the late nineties, when the lead singer of Mozersky's then band, WAN SANTO CONDO was working as a van driver shuttling bands back and forth to the venue for a Texas promoter. (The three members of the 7 all hail from Texas) The part time driver, part time musician took a risk that all artists must take at some point in their lives in order to succeed. He asked the then captive Ben Harper, "Can I play you my demo?" Harper obliged, and in his own words "was blown away," and helped the band secure a record deal and release the self-titled Wan Santo Condo / Everloving Records, 2004. The band broke up after one record, but what survived was a lasting friendship between Harper and Mozersky.”
In November 2008, the band debuted their new material on the Vote For Change Tour, where they also breathed new life into the Queen/David Bowie classic "Under Pressure," which has since become a staple of their live set. They ended the year cutting their teeth with a series of small club shows from famed venues such as Spaceland and The Mint in Los Angeles, to The Mercury Lounge and Kenny's Castaway in NYC. The band is scheduled to tour extensively across the world in 2009.” (Ben Harper.com, 2009).
2. Why did they make this album? What was the passion or message that forced them to produce what they have? Or, simply what was their motivation for the themes they chose for this album?
“In 2005, Harper began recording sessions that would become a double record entitled Both Sides of the Gun (2006, Virgin Records). He invited his now long time friend Mozersky to lay down some guitar work on a track. Upon invitation to continue recording the next day, Jason arrived at the studio with longtime friends, drummer Jordan Richardson and bassist Jesse Ingalls. The session would spawn not only the song "Serve Your Soul" but the framework for Relentless7.”
“In the summer of 2008, the chance arrived for these four uniquely talented members to reunite in the studio and dig deeper into the chemistry that was born during the Both Sides of the Gun sessions. It was soon apparent that their instincts were correct as the record quickly began to take shape. The songs from White Lies for Dark Times sound off with both the vast musical depth and experience of Harper, while commanding the pure urgency and intensity of an unknown band fighting for its life.” (Ben Harper.com, 2009).
3. What message are they delivering through their lyrics and music?
Let me start out by saying that I am a fan of Ben Harper’s music and have all of his catalog. His last album, Both Sides of the Gun, though full of good songs, did not have the power of past albums. He must have felt it. I couldn’t help but add that story of how these guys met and decided to create, as their bio states, “American rock, the way it is supposed to sound and feel.”
Since I am a fan, I purchased the deluxe edition, with the DVD, which includes live versions of Shimmer and Shine and Keep it Together, along with a documentary and a photo gallery. I also purchased two tracks off iTunes which I will review here to give you the full effect of this powerful album.
Number With No Name – Powerful drums and a swamp boogie guitar start this one off perfectly. “I’m serenaded by a chorus of a thousand burning cigarettes…” Sets the mood perfectly. “It may be good for the soul, but it’s hard on the nerves. “The very thing that drives you can drive you insane.” “Got a head full of thought crimes and a number with no name…” Oh yeah, the lyrics on this album, as with all Harper albums is genius. This guy knows how to write and especially how to create a mood. Guitar solo in the middle is just the perfect complement to the strong lyrics being delivered.
Up To You Now – One of my favorite songs on the album. The almost U2 beginning to this one is a new sound for Harper. But the lyrics are and have always been important to Ben. “You can run away from home, but you can’t run away from pain.” “There’s always someone else to blame.” It’s up to you.” The most powerful part of the song is the way Harper delivers the lines, “There’s no sound louder than war, and we don’t have tomorrow any more.” “You wrote a list of demands and you nailed it to both of my hands.” Powerful reference points. With Ben you get more than great music. You get songs that stay with you forever. This one still is one of my favorites of the year. The guitar work and instrumental support is also very strong making this a song which will become a classic in his catalog for years to come.
Shimmer & Shine – The first single off the album. The DVD live version of the song is
incredible to watch as the band brings this song to life. The slide guitar work Ben does live is fun to watch.. Even on this pop designed single the lyrics and message are powerful. “Bring me the music for the revolution it puts my mind at ease to know we’re the problem, we’re the solution, the cure and the disease.” The music is good, but this one took me a while to really start to enjoy.
Lay There & Hate Me – Another one of my favorites. I will use these lines next time I get into conflicts with anyone in the future, “lay there and hate me, lay there and burn.” Good advice. Better to talk it out and not get frustrated. Great guitar riff supported by drums. Grinding guitar and that tapping sound that just creates that irritating feeling and that need to get over it. Fantastic piano in the middle that just really acts a wonderful bridge. Lyrics again take center stage. “Lay there and hate me, better than being alone.” “Had to fight your way in and you got to fight your way out.” That wah wah guitar towards the end, just magnificent.
Why Must You Always Dress In Black – Swamp boogie guitar starts this out with quick support of drums and more guitars. Another break – up song back to back. “Just cause you go down in history doesn’t really mean you’re really all that smart.” Rumbling boogie woogie. One of the less memorable songs on the album. Good guitar solos, but I would have preferred Spanish Red Wine or Eldorado over this track on the original version.
Skin Thin – This will become another of Ben’s classics in time. The Beatles, Long, Long Long - like acoustic guitar intro is wonderful. The lyrics really soar here. “Now that you’ve grown up you can finally learn to be a child.” “We made it to the end of the world, but we’ll never make it out alive.” “Skin thin, I breathe out, you breathe in.” Beautiful acoustic guitar supported by drums and a chorus in the background. Guitar solo in the middle is inspired.
Fly One Time – The second best song on the album IMHO. Drums set the beat and then the guitar work begins right before the lyrics take over. “In a world that owes you nothing you give everything.” “Now I’m caught in between what I can’t leave behind and what I may never find.” Age and the success of the past posed on the threshold of the future. Been there and done that. You must “fly, just fly one time.” We all should do it once in our lives. Take that big risk to know what you’re made of. Find yourself. Ben took that risk with this new band.
Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart) – A real heavy rocker following such a beautiful song. “You gotta keep it together, so that I can fall apart.” “…and I know by now my best years they are no longer with me.” Then one of the best instrumental wanderings I have heard since the Mighty Zep. That slow bass starts things off like You Shook Me or Dazed and Confused. On the DVD, the song has a longer instrumental part in the middle.
Boots Like These – Pick up the tempo and get ready to rock. “Tonight I’m trying to lose my mind.” “Tonight we’re gonna live forever.” That slide guitar and buzz really make this one memorable. Bluesy and almost sounds like he recorded it live with screams in the background. Bet this one is a crowd pleaser live.
The Word Suicide – Another powerful message song. Dreamy vocal and effects beginning to this before the drum and acoustic guitar take over. “What so hard about sympathy.” “Love is a lonely room.” “I should no better than to use words like never and hate.” Guitar solo is one of the best on the album. That slide guitar is really used to the best effect throughout this album. The dreaming guitar echo, keys and ending is so cool.
Faithfully Remain – A powerful closer, giving the listener more to contemplate while they’re waiting for the follow – up album. One of the many great songs on this album. Some of the best lyrics are saved for last. “I learned to say goodbye too young.” “How long can you pray and still not see a change?’ Ben answers back, “I faithfully remain.” Acoustic guitar organ and drums support the singer as he delivers a defiant closer to one of his best albums yet.
Eldorado – Beautiful acoustic song that really would have been great to have on the album. An instrumental piece that would have been a nice way to close the album. Drums supporting acoustic guitar and keys. Nice good night kind of song.
Spanish Red Wine – Claps and acoustic guitar bring this to life. Gives you that flamenco effect, like they did this live from Spain with a dancer in the background. “She could greet you in five different languages but say goodbye in only one.” I really love that line. And this one, “It isn’t that she lied, there just was no truth to tell.” Would fit so perfectly in a Quentin Tarantino western. Really is a better song than Why Must You Always Dress in Black, IMHO. Would have been a good closer as well.
4. Does this music improve, change, or add to the genre? What does the listener receive from listening to the music?
Ben is using this album to get back to the roots of American rock, and this band helped to make one of the strongest and most original albums this year, so far. Ben passed the 40 year age barrier this year and it must have had an effect on him. To start over with a new band, when he could have easily continued what he was doing, was a bold move which inspired an innovative album.
This album reminds me so much of the earthy kind of rock n’ roll Zeppelin made back in the 70s. In fact, the band covers Good Times Bad Times, off Zep’s first album to bring home the feeling that this was ground – breaking material in the same way.
5. Does it have longevity? Is it something a fan will like to play again and again?
I have played this at least once a day since it came out in May. It is just wonderful in every way. Fans of the band will find allot of wonderful new songs to sing and enjoy. New fans will be amazed they have not heard from these talented artists yet.
Rating: 9/10 – A huge rebound from the last album. One strong start for the Relentless 7. But I expect they have even higher levels to go in the future. This band is high on my watch list and are sitting at the third best album of 2009, IMHO, as of this writing.
Reviewed by Prof on July 10th, 2009