Monday, December 17, 2012

Harper And Musselwhite Don't Believe

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite
There has been some buzz around Ben Harper ever since Rolling Stone had the honor of premiering the first cut off the upcoming Ben Harper - Charlie Musselwhite collaboration Get Up! Much of it is well deserved for the Pomona, Calif., singer-songwriter with an affinity for mixing blues, folk, soul, and rock.

Although the single I Can't Believe A Word You Say is lean on lyrics and perhaps too repetitive at times, the dueling guitar and harmonica is a musical masterpiece in reminding everyone where rock and roll came from. The breakdown is exceptionally adept at delivering maximum effect with minimal means.

I Don't Believe A Word You Say is a rock-infused blues howler. 

The breakdown is every bit of what Harper does best while showcasing Musselwhite, one of the greatest electric blues harmonica players ever. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010 after a resurgence in his career a decade earlier.

Musselwhite has put out more than 20 records and contributed guest performances on albums by singers as diverse as Bonnie Raitt, INXS, and Tom Waits. He met Harper during a recording session with John Lee Hooker. Ever since, the two have discussed collaborating for a nearly a decade.

It's obvious that the pairing shows two musicians who have connected personally and musically. Accompanied by Jason Mozersky (guitar), Jesse Ingalls (bass) and Jordan Richardson (drums), I Don't Believe A Word You Say comes across as spontaneous as it is heartfelt with bits of instrumental finesse to create a wildly layered sound.

The song itself is politically infused, without being overbearing. Much of it comes across like a buring commentary of the times. Some folks are quick to blame current circumstances on anything and everything else but never take responsibility. The few lyric lines that don't get swallowed up in the chorus capture a growing world weariness of rhetoric with little action.

"Blame it on hard living. Blame it on the times. Blame it on the victims all stumbling begin. I don't even need to look you in the eye. I don't believe a word you say." — Ben Harper

Not all of the upcoming album, Get Up!, due in January, is expected to be as pointed or blend elements of blues and rock. Much like previous work by Harper, the 10-track call-to-action album mixes in blues, gospel, roots, and R&B. All of the songs were written (or co-written) by Harper.

Still, Musselwhite lends plenty of himself to the album, making arrangements that not only accompany but also accentuate the vocals. There is a spirituality to it at times as Musselwhite either responds to or repeats the sentiment of Harper's lyrics with his own musical punctuation.

If the album does anything, it demonstrates that blues is meant to be a community, with each musician complementing or lending something to the music. The depth and substance have the capacity to move people, often telling a story that sticks with you from the first chord to the last refrain.

It's also great to see Musselwhite get equal billing on the Harper album. Musselwhite is truly a legend in some circles, given that he lived the blues as much as he played them. As people like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash were defining music, Musslewhite was digging ditches, laying concrete, and running moonshine before immersing himself in music.

It all nearly came to end in the 1980s when alcoholism almost got the better of him. He stopped drinking in 1987. And a few years later he found himself signed with Alligator Records.

I Don't Believe A Word You Say Starts At 7.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Knowing Harper, there will no doubt be better songs (lyrically) on the 10-track album. But I Don't Believe A Word You Say still wins in its ability to showcase the musicians and Harper's incessant vocals as they punch the air. A little more to the story would have lit up the boards, but we'll still take it.

I Don't Believe A Word You Say by Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite is available on iTunes. You can also find I Don't Believe A Word You Say on Amazon. Harper is also seeing another dream of his come true. He is serving on the Tony Hawk Foundation to help build skate parks for at-risk kids and came up with an idea to match skaters, musicians, and artists together. The idea is cool enough to be a good will pick here in the near future.
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