Thursday, March 09, 2006

First Listen: Both Sides of the Gun

[I think one of the things I will try to regularly incorporate is a "First Listen" feature where I'll sit down with a new release and write about what comes to mind on that all-important first listen (okay, maybe we'll shoot for an *early* listen). I really enjoy giving albums a scholarly look and think it's a worthwhile endeavor to take some time, think about the music and try to pin down what might be going on with it.]

My first installment of "First Listen" is Both Sides of the Gun. I've been looking forward to this release for ages now. If you've been following along, Ben Harper is tops among peers in my mind. The best thing is that you never know what you're going to get from him; each album is an adventure and an exploration. I think this one will show us another side of Ben's varied repetoire.


Better Way - Great slide work in the middle. Another uplifting song from Ben, "I believe in a better way." I like the scream at the end. I think it's the only way to convey those lyrics. "Reality is sharp because it cuts like a knife. Everyone I know is in the fight of their life." It's affecting. The Middle Eastern vibe at the end is new. I didn't pick it up from the video.

Both Sides of the Gun - Feels like soul. I'm already liking the direction of his more upbeat songs. That 70s soul vibe needs to make a come back. Sam Cooke, Marvin in his hey- Backup singers make an appearance. Definitely from the Isaac Hayes ouvre. Short at 2:44 could be stretched out a bit more...

Engraved Invitation - Harder rock. I've heard AC/DC comparisons on the boards, the lead riff could be, but it's a little more ZZ Top I think. What lyrics I'm picking up are good. Can't wait to delve in a little further. Ben's straining on the last chorus, really pushing the words out there. You can tell he's feeling it.

Black Rain - "You left them swimming for their lives down in New Orleans / Can't afford a gallon of gasoline." This song, I knew would be one of my favorites, and it might be for a long time. Like the strings... nice presence. Lots of soul. Politics are sharp. "And it won't be long 'til the people flood the streets / To take you down / One and all / It's a black rain / Gonna fall / Gonna fall." This should be a single.

Gather 'Round the Stone - Onto the acoustic for the first time. Would have loved to have heard the Blind Boys on this one. Could have added some punch to the chorus, but the layered vox the third time around are okay; I want to hear them deeper though. The idea is there. The backing instruments are too in/out. "You whip the back of freedom / Till it bleeds an oil stream"

Please Don't Talk About Murder - Nice rocker. Sounds like it will be fun live. One of those that will age well, I think. You can hear a lot of opportunity for the IC's to take off in the live setting.

Get It Like You Like It - Organ intro. Sounds pretty Stones-y. The Johnny Damon line is classic. "In 1918 the Great Bambino kicked a piano into Willis Pond / But Johnny Damon swung a bat / That was that, an 86 year old curse was gone." What a great moment in time... Hand claps, another great live song. I'm really excited to see some shows. Hopefully there are a few in the midwest.

The Way You Found Me - Interesting take. Jazz club feel. Feels like something you can hear at the Blue Room. We haven't heard this influence from Ben before. Piano is nice. Jazz, man, you got me. I'm amazed at how loose all these songs feel. It's cool, almost like you're listening to demos or live takes. Less polished, but I think that suits this set of songs so far (one to go on this disc). Wish it was longer... 2:53 only.

Serve Your Soul - Here's some length, 8:22. Zeppelin comes to mind right off... a circular electric riff into some acoustic work and strings. Need some wind instruments and you've got "Stairway." A heavier-ish electric solo fades into acoustic strumming backing a building solo. Definately rock. Nice little jam around 5:00. Catches a second wind in the last minute. Violins come in... definitely epic in scope. I like. Approve.

Morning Yearning - Strings are here. Acoustic is set back in the mix, less prevalent than the RTL2 live version. Drums are subtle but nice as well. "Baby crying kept us all night / With her morning yearning." A lot of tension in the vocals. String swells, upright bass. "Like a summer rose / I'm a victim of the fall / but I'm soon returning." Nice play on "fall's" multiple meanings.

Waiting For You - Sounds like a Verve song. Richard Ashcroft would be proud.

(Side note: Sabres 5, Lightning 4 - second period... new goals every time I look up at the game. Wide open game... no goaltending right now)

Picture In a Frame - Lap steel makes an appearance. Nashville. So far, this is certainly a different disc, but calling it "acoustic" or "ballads" isn't the right description. If the first disc is "A Change Is Gonna Come" then this disc is "Moolight Mile" or "Wild Horses." AM radio hits of the 70s for sure.

Never Leave Lonely Alone - A different acoustic style from Ben. The piano has played a really understated role throughout this album. Just guitar, piano and an upright bass on this one.

Sweet Nothing Serenade - Weissenborn on the lead? Or just a lap slide? Long-ish instrumental intro long instrumental intro instrumental.

Reason to Mourn - Feedback/tuning for the first :24. For all Ben's various indulgences, he's been fairly judicious with his use of strings. All very effective and I haven't found any too egregious. There's definitely an influence for this disc, but I'm not pulling it down right now. It will come to me. Early 70s Stones? A little more stately take on Harvest?

More Than Sorry - As in "What more than 'sorry' do you want from me?" Two guitars... three? No other accompanyment.

Crying Won't Help You Now - Sounds like it was a bad relationship. Here's a ballad.

Happy Everafter in Your Eyes - Great melody Ben pulled for this one. A very gentle song. Reminiscent of a Burn to Shine-era ballad in a way (thinking Beloved One...). Will have to spend some more time with this one. I'm sure it will be one of those that clicks one day and might be very important for some stretch of life.

I'm really happy with listen number one. It did not dissapoint at all. I really like the first disc's vibe. Those songs don't quite feel fleshed out, but it might sound differently on the stereo than in headphones. I think the loose feel will lend itself to volume. If those songs are a 4, I can only say the subsequent (imminent?) live album will be a masterpiece. I think they could do with some live growth and they'll really flourish, but as they stand, they are a good collection. The second disc was fascinating. I need to pin down the similarity. It reminds me a lot of Nashville in the 70s when rock went country.

J.Jakes. - you are the man for hooking me up with this early. I'm geeked to have a chance to sit with it, especially since I wasn't sure if my pre-order would have even made it to me by the 21st. I'm commissioning a statue in your honor, my friend. Thank you sir...

1 comment:

Gabi said...

great! (your comments about the Harper's new album...

Lo escucho en este bueno el disco!!
Bye, bye...Gabi - Argentina