White Lies For Black Times

For the better part of a decade Ben Harper and his band The Innocent Criminals created music that was multi-layered, subtle, one might even say manicured. There was a lot of thoughtful process in creating albums that were imbued with folk, soul and blues inspirations. Harper has taken a hairpin turn for his new release, eschewing the niceties for blunt force rock and roll. Harper does so with the help of a new band, a Texas Trio ironically called The Relentless7, who make music so raw it smarts like skinned knees.

White Lies For Dark Times finds its genesis in a studio session for Harper’s 2005 release, Both Sides of the Gun, a double album that featured one disc of acoustic numbers, the other much harder rocking versions of the same. It was Jason Mozersky, Jesse Ingalls, and Jordon Richardson – later to become The Relentless7 – who played with Harper during those sessions. Harper discovered Mozersky’s music when the struggling musician popped in a demo tape while he was working as a tour-van driver for Harper.

Harper and crew waste no time slamming down “Number With No Name,” a cross between grunge and swamp boogie that would sound right at place on a Lucinda Williams album. It also sets the lyrical attitude for the album; Harper’s sweet musings are mostly replaced by emotional material that reveals an aggressive side to the singer. The combined effects of the thundering music and the passion of the lyrics create an intense urgency that relentlessly propels the album to its fruition. “Shimmer and Shine” blasts out of the speakers from opening note to end; Harper sounds like a recently comatose man who’s intent on making up for lost time. “Lay There and Hate Me” is a blues infused track that sounds like something the Stone could have done in the ‘70s. Harper blasts out at a woman who treats him “like an underpaid concubine” while a bevy of girl singers chant woo woo woo. “Why Must You Always Wear Black” kicks of with fuzzy slide guitar and thumping bass and drums and Harper kicks in biting lyrics “You might be a cheap date/but my therapy is expensive as hell.”

Clearly this is no Innocent Criminals record. Harper’s chemistry with The Relentless7 brings out a harder then we’ve previously heard and a sharper tongue. “Skin Thin” is one of the few quite moments on the album, a bittersweet album about what it takes to make love last. White Times For Dark Times sounds like a record that’s been brewing for awhile and now that the volcano has blown the music flows red hot.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)