It has been said that Ben Harper is redefining modern rock music. Backed by the band Relentless 7 – drummer Jordan Richardson, bassist Jesse Ingalls, and guitarist Jason Mozersky, Harper’s latest release “White Lies for Dark Times” definitely reveals a new layer to his soulful sound. “White Lies For Dark Times” is an unblemished balance of ferocious guitar licks and acoustic ballads. Ben Harper without question is a future superstar, however his album sounds more like the past. It sounds as though Harper is recycling his past influences, rather than originating a new wave of rock. Hendrix and ZZ Top can clearly be heard in the 11 tracks, making the album sound more like a tribute than an innovative new chapter of music.
In the opener “Number With No Name” the vicious sound of Relentless 7 is complemented well by Harper’s volatile guitar solo, followed by the commanding “Up To You Now” and lead single “Shimmer and Shine,” which was a prelude of other good things to come. “Shimmer and Shine” not only includes the albums title, but other paradoxical lyrics such as “bring me the music for the revolution/it puts my mind at ease/to know we’re the problem and the solution/the cure and the disease.” “Lay There and Hate Me” is also consistent and powerful, declaring “you lay there and hate me/better than being alone.” Along with “Number With No Name,” “Why Must You Always Dress In Black” is a personal favorite of mine, beginning “you may be a cheap date/but my therapy’s expensive as hell.”
“Skin Thin” is one of the album’s best ballads, but then it begins to lose momentum, like it was the seventh inning stretch and I was waiting for the game to begin again. “Fly One Time,” “Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart),” “Boots Like These,” and “The Word Suicide” are not near as spectacular as their predecessors. However, the album ends with a home run – the moving “Faithfully Remain.” Harper is once again at his best, showing his vulnerability and wisdom with lyrics like “some things, some things you have to let be lost/some battles, some battles/you have to leave unfought.”
The balance of the record was satisfying, and the album has some great hits, but it also has some ground outs. Harper is not rewriting the story of modern rock, but more like retelling it to us in his own way. I have no doubt that Harper will eventually make a masterpiece all his own and have his own chapter in the book of rock. “White Lies For Dark Times“, though somewhat dependent on the past, leaves no doubt that Ben Harper will have a light, white future. And that’s no lie.