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Ben Harper And Relentless7 - White Lies For Dark Times
Since 1994's Welcome To The Cruel World, it's been a steady climb to commercial respectability in his native USA for Ben Harper, with the on-off assistance of his usual band The Innocent Criminals. This burly set sees the debut of new cohorts Relentless7, who let a little light in and bring some ballsy swagger to what has too often been staid blues.
The result is a mixed bag. The most immediate song, 'Shimmer And Shine', is also the album's weakest, an unexpected attempt to pay fond tribute to Lenny Kravitz. Harper's chunky riffs are used to less jarring effect on the Raconteurs-a-like 'Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart)' and the full-funk licks of 'Lay There And Hate Me', sailing close to the fractious grooves of TV On The Radio.
The ballads are brighter, the Relentless7 sounding pretty on the bassy acoustics of 'Skin Thin' ("It's all I can do to hold on/Life's just skin thin"), with its gorgeous violin carrying the song to a delicate conclusion. 'Faithfully Remain' is pure sun-dappled soul, its Rhodes piano and feathery beats a perfect bed for Harper's aching tones - "My memories, they turn to tears/They turn to fire, blood and pain".
Where White Lies... falls down is in the search for something new. Flanked by different colleagues, Harper has served up essentially the same - a fairly unremarkable stew of delta blues and funk. It's a little crisper this time around, sure, but Kings Of Leon won't be buying extra insurance on their blues-rock throne.