Ben Harper | Give Till It’s Gone (Virgin)

By now, you should have a pretty good idea what you’re going to get with each Ben Harper release—his style is his style.

 

 

Ben Harper’s latest, Give Till It’s Gone, is not in any way a departure from the norm for the West Coast rocker. It does, however, reinforce a sense of his musical ability and the quality of his songwriting. He doesn’t spend much time outside the box trying to redefine his style; instead, he takes his normal sound and adds a few twists picked up on 2009’s collaboration with Relentless 7 (White Lies for Dark Times). As a result, Give Till It’s Gone is not groundbreaking, but it is listenable, concise, and polished.

By now, you should have a pretty good idea what you’re going to get with each Ben Harper release—his style is his style. He’s a great guitar player with a really excellent voice and a knack for successfully creating both upbeat and slow tracks. Give Till It’s Gone continues to highlight his diversity, as Harper delivers a widespread range of tracks. There’s plenty of very good straight up rock songs that most of his die-hard fans will probably appreciate. This includes the Tom Petty homage “Rock N’ Roll is Free,” the excellent “Clearly Severely,” and “Waiting On A Sign,” the requisite Hendrix tribute expected on each of Harper’s releases. As usual, there’s also a couple of very solid gospel influenced songs, “Spilling Faith” and “Pray That Our Love Sees the Dawn.” And the album is definitely helped by “Don’t Give up on Me Now,” a very solid intro, and “I Will Not Be Broken,” a spectacular track that sounds like something that would be at home in a movie trailer.

The diversity in style, tempo, and pace help keep the album moving, and like always, Harper doesn’t fail on any single track. However, the problem with Give Till It’s Gone is that there’s nothing new or especially fresh, and no real experimentation either. Ben Harper is one of my favorite musicians, and bad songs from him rarely, if ever, happen. But at times it’s very frustrating to listen to new material and realize you can easily recall other, older songs in his catalog that sound similar. It’s very easy to have trouble differentiating between his albums at this point. Most of what appears on this release would have been at home on any previous Ben Harper album, and it makes his lack of growth stand out even more.

Harper’s stagnation is definitely a strange thing. I normally criticize and even dislike an artist because of it, but I feel like he is almost a victim of his diversity. Because his albums have been all over the place for most of his career, it’s hard to place the sound and style of any single release. As a result, Give Till It’s Gone sounds almost too at home in his catalog. While you know Ben Harper isn’t going to put out a weak effort, at this point, you have to wonder if he’s ever going to take a huge step forward. Sure, Give Till It’s Gone is a little sadder and more mature than a few past releases, but ultimately, it’s not much more than solid and predictable. While I’m okay with that for now, someday I’d like to see a lot more. B- | Brett Berliner

RIYL: Ben Harper, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Ben Harper & Relentless 7

 

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