Adam Kandle CD Review: Ben Harper and The Relentless 7, ‘White Lies For Dark Times’
May 28, 2009
“White Lies For Dark Times” is a case-in-point of an artist who can be both helped and hindered by his or her specific gifts.
Ben Harper is such a talented singer and musician that it makes sense he would try and take his gifts to places and genres many others would be afraid to go. For this, he should be commended, but not always praised for the results.
His latest offering is a mixed bag ” at times powerful (“Up To You Now” and “Lay There And Hate Me”) and at other times all pomp and circumstance with no real depth (the aptly titled “Shimmer And Shine). What’s perhaps most disappointing about this album is that it follows arguably his best album to date, “Lifeline”. Whereas on “Lifeline” Harper chose to dredge up the ghosts of Memphis and Mussel Shoals with great result, “White Lies For Dark Times” looks to evoke the powers of England by way of Chicago and Mississippi with a paint-by-numbers feel.
The great moments on this record, and there are some, are found when Harper is less concerned with rocking out and more concerned with creating a song that infuses his influences rather than uses them as a “rocker playbook”. Rock ‘n’ roll these days is just about who can rehash the past but make it seem new and adventurous. There are no secret chords and that’s why recreating this genre is such a daunting task. The Black Keys can take the simplicity of the blues and rock format but somehow make it feel like their own.
Why “White Lies For Dark Times” stumbles is that Harper never truly owns it. Instead, it sounds like he’s just renting it out for an album, hopefully to be returned for something that can truly live up to the bar that “Lifeline” set.