Both Sides of the Gun

The seventh studio album from the California-born singer/songwriter is his first double album of new material. Although the running time could have fit on one disc, Harper separated Both Sides of the Gun onto individual discs the harder-edge songs from the softer texture material. He wanted an experience akin to listening to an old vinyl record, having to physically change to the other side.

He feels more fearless these days, both as a songwriter and as a singer. His last project was the 2004 album-length collaboration with the Blind Boys of Alabama, There Will Be a Light. Harper now says that "Before the Blind Boys, I used to sing. With and after the Blind Boys, I may have become a singer."

Meanwhile, Harper is angry about the state of America and the world. And he's not shy about showing so, particularly on the more rock-oriented half of Both Sides of the Gun. He says, "if there's no justice in day-to-day living, there's for damn sure gonna be some justice in my music!"

He wrote "Black Rain," for example, after the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "I'm not a desperate man, but these are desperate times at hand," Harper sings as he vents his anger over the treatment of those displaced by the hurricane. Or in the song "Gather 'Round the Stone," Harper does a Phil Ochs-style protest folk song.

His musical intensity often matches his lyrics, like the blistering guitar solo Harper adds to the Rolling Stones boogie-rock number "Engraved Invitation" (Harper also visits Stones-influenced country on "Get It Like You Like It").

He deals with more personal issues and affairs of the heart on the softer disc, in such songs as the string-quintet based "Morning Yearning" or the R&B flavored "Cryin' Won't Help You Know."

Although the double-album conceit was a debatable choice, fans of Ben Harper will definitely be able to dive into Both Sides of the Gun with abandon, and the album will doubtless win him new converts as well.

Mike Sauter, WYEP Music Director