Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite
Stax Records/Concord Music Group
In the 10 years since they met during a John Lee Hooker recording session, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite have collaborated on a few projects.
But, they knew all along they wanted to make a full album together. It just took a little longer than they planned to put together enough original songs to challenge them both.
The legendary 69-year-old Musselwhite has played harmonica behind everyone from Muddy Waters and Tom Waits to Eric Clapton and INXS. And, he really stretches out here, hitting his full range, from chugging freight train to a wounded wail.
Harper keeps the songs lean and mean, laying a Chicago blues growl to roots, jazz, gospel and soul vibes.
The grinding electric guitars of songs like “I Don’t Believe a Word You Say” and “Blood Side Out” could have fallen off any one of Musselwhite’s Chicago albums with the Butterfield Blues Band.
The hand-clapping gospel of “We Can’t End This Way” gives way to the six-minute slow burn of the title cut.
With the 10 songs here, Harper has nothing left to prove as a relevant songwriter.
“Give a man a hundred years/ He’ll want a hundred more/ Give him a hundred choices/ And he still chooses war,” he sings in the soldier tale, “I Ride At Dawn.”
Adam Green & Binki Shapiro
While popular music continues its long, lazy search for a fresh direction, we have to settle for retro everything.
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That’s not always a bad thing. Artists like She & Him helped revive the sweet, sunny boy/girl harmonies of 1960s duos like Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood.
That partnership worked because there was something a little off about them, and they embraced it. The same could be said for Adam Green and Binki Shapiro. Green won a Grammy with anti-pop partner Kimya Dawson in the loopy Moldy Peaches. And, Binki, even if the first name wasn’t enough, is a Beck collaborator and lead singer for Little Joy.
Together, they make lush, wonderfully offbeat duets straight from AM radio’s heyday.
“Don’t disinclude me, treat me like a kid/ Casanova to the mentally ill,” they sing in one pretty song, tongue firmly in cheek.
As skewed as they are, they are pretty songs, something like Nick Cave in love.
“My life’s a mask for the vice in your soul,” they sing in “The Nighttime Stopped Bleeding.”
“In Guards We Trust”
Black Bell Records
On paper, the Guards are a trio of young New Yorkers, veterans of hip bands like the Willowz and Bult.
Their sound though, is pure West Coast and pure 1990s. The band blends the last gasp of new wave with grunge’s fuzzy guitars. There are plenty of early indie rock sunbeams in there, too, and the billowy harmonies of TV soundtrack pop anthems.
It’s an interesting mix, and while it doesn’t plow any new musical ground, it’s nice to hear a band having fun making something interesting from the past.
Willowz singer Richie Follin leads the band with Kylie Church and Loren Humphrey.
The album opens with the big drums and echoing voices of “Nightmare” and drifts into the fuzzed out guitar and chimes of the single “Ready to Go.” Songs like “Coming True” and “I Know It’s You” are built for summer festival anthems. Other tracks, like “Can’t Repair,” borrow the faux-psychedelia of ‘60s pop bands like the Mamas and the Papas.
In the end, the formula becomes a little wearisome. But, it’s great fun while it lasts.