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Issue: August 2009

Aggression Progression

White Lies for Dark Times

(Virgin)

Ben Harper and Relentless7

On Ben Harper's latest release, White Lies for Dark Times, the singer/slide virtuoso puts his long-time band the Innocent Criminals on hold and forms with Relentless7. While Harper has recorded several albums that sift through the many subgenres of popular music, White Lies for Dark Times marks the first time Harper's gone heavy, and he managed to create his best album to date.

The album is a solid mix of surging blues/rock tracks and chilled, thought-provoking ballads. "Shimmer and Shine" is unmistakably hard rock. A smacking snare and planted kick slam through an extended fill before running into a wall of fuzzed-out guitar riffs. Harper develops a swaggered vocal, somewhat similar to Anthony Keidis, fast and deep-bellied, but relaxes on the chorus to his familiar tone.

On the other hand, "Skin Thin" holds a darkly soothing 12-string baritone guitar riff that seems to comfortably glide across the simple bass and drumbeat, accenting Harpers soft vocals. One can hear a shutter in Harper's voice as he sings, "Now that we've grown up / can finally be a child / with good friends behind me/ but ghosts up ahead for miles."

Harper's soul-grabbing vocal performance and the band's vibe-filled playing is only to be outdone by other tracks like "Up To You Now," where the drums tap at a full-toned bass line and the guitars scratch at the grounded organ and Wurlitzer. Harper sings in a painfully serious fashion before belting out in operatic fashion, "There's no sound louder than war and we don't have tomorrow anymore."

Vintage instruments and sounds are sprinkled across a wonderfully crisp, yet raw album. The most astonishing part of White Lies for Dark Times is the fact that Harper was able to release his most aggressively intense work nearly two decades into his career. Luckily for its listeners, Relentless7 was able to help make it work.

Check out benharper.com for more.

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