thu 30/05/2024

Album: Ben Harper - Bloodline Maintenance | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Ben Harper - Bloodline Maintenance

Album: Ben Harper - Bloodline Maintenance

Bluesy singer-songwriter star bares his soulful side with likeable results

Harper father and Harper son

Throughout the 1990s and the first decade of this century, Ben Harper achieved global stardom, although the UK was a territory where he never achieved lift-off. By contrast, in the US, Australia and much of Europe, he’s regarded as a heavyweight (he’s won three Grammys!).

His career has combined the earnestness of Sixties/Seventies singer-songwriter political activism, with lively musical eclecticism, and, sometimes, a blander middle-of-the-road vibe redolent of his pal Jack Johnson. His latest album showcases the rawer end of his appeal.

Bloodline Maintenance is Harper’s first “proper” album in six years (his last one was all instrumental and the one before that a collaboration with bluesman Charlie Musselwhite). Mostly self-played, it feels tight. Harper is known for dipping into multiple styles but here he sticks to a template that successfully fuses wah-wah-fuelled early-Seventies soul, in pared-back form, with jazzy blues.

Opening single “We Need to Talk About It” was a good sign, a Curtis Mayfield-like rage against racism with lyrics that hack at complacency (“Whoever said time heals all wounds wasn’t a slave, I’m guessing”) but a chunk of the album gives itself over to love and relationships, some inspired by the death of a friend. It ranges from the sweet Bill Withers-ish “More Than Love” to the lyrically quirkier “Need to Know Basis”, which features a typically fat-free guitar solo.

Other reference points might be Aloe Blacc, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye but stripped down to essentials. Bloodline Maintenance feels like one man in his studio, getting deep into it, rather than anything lusher, and there’s that jazz’n’blues fret-wrangling too, which takes it somewhere else, especially on cuts such as “Knew the Day Was Comin’” and the sparse slowie “Problem Child”.

At its best, the album combines a sinewy energy and solid lyrics with well-chosen retro influences that don’t overshadow the end result. And, to top it off, there’s his guitar-play, unshowy, imaginative and likeably expressive.

Below: listen to "Need to Know Basis" by Ben Harper

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