Freakin’ January. It’s all cold and desolate. Everyone’s tapped out so there’s nothing happening anywhere. Businesses are cutting back. People stay in.
Artists don’t usually release new albums or material in January because, again, everyone’s broke from Christmas and pinching pennies. Besides, most of them released their latest stuff in November so their fans could buy it for the holidays.
Freakin’ January. A creative wasteland. (Or would that be a wasteland of creativity? Or a wasteland of NON-creativity?)
Every once in a while you get lucky and someone will release an album in January. That happened in 2011 – Social Distortion, Charles Bradley, and Wanda Jackson all released new music that January. But none come to mind that were released in January last year. I figured it would be the same this year.
But then this happened. Ladies and gentlemen…I’m thrilled to present to you the first great album of 2013:
This isn’t going to be any kind of groundbreaking review, here. I mean, it’s Ben Harper. It’s Charlie Musselwhite. Do the math. While I’ll concede that any great artist is capable of making a jacked-up album once in a while, there are some things that are pretty safe bets.
All the wonderful versions of Ben Harper are here; there’s Wild Ben, Gentle Ben, Loving Ben, Angry Ben, Rock Ben, Quiet/Introspective Ben, Crazy Ben, Gospel Ben. And like always, the blues, while not always exactly fully incorporated into his sound, are always there somewhere.
Take all that and put a perfect dose of Charlie Musselwhite’s harmonica over it. In my experience, it can be tricky to incorporate a harmonica virtuoso as a guest artist; you don’t want it to turn into Blues Traveler, but you have to make it worth their while and allow them to make a real contribution. No worries here. These two balance it perfectly and work together to accentuate what the other is doing, with the good of the music kept in mind above all.
I’m certainly no expert on Charlie Musselwhite, but from what I do know, the unique setting of this album gives the harmonica great some unique landscapes to stretch out on and explore in new ways.
It’s also worth noting that this is the first time I’ve really been struck by the uniqueness and profundity in some of Harper’s liners. I know he knows his way around a song and is a great lyricist, but some of the lines here really hit my ears as something special.
As much as I love his music, there are generally a song or two on any Ben Harper release that just leave me cold. Not so here. This album is rockin’, funky, soulful, gentle, beautiful, and SOLID. Not a dud in the bunch.
Extra cool points for all involved, too, that this record is being released on the mighty, mighty Stax label!
Further refuting the January wasteland theory, keep an eye out later this month for new music from Eric Burden and one of our great prophets, Kris Kristofferson.