Ben Harper continues to prove he is one of today's premiere roots music performers with his recent release No Mercy In This Land. The collaboration with downhome Delta harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite is a profound reflection on America's collective external and internal rocky terrain. This is their second collaborative effort, their first one being the Grammy Award winning Get Up! in 2013, which had more of a revivalist, Robert-Johnson-meets-the-crossroads feel. On this Anti- Records release, Harper and Musselwhite kick up the dust about generational addictions, living life hard, fighting inner demons, love and faith.
The ten tracks are a mélange of gut-bucket blues, folk, country and even a pinch of zydeco. The first track “When I Go” sets the tone for the album, opening with smoky gospel tones, moving into fiery blues rhythms. Harper's voice isn't bourbon-soaked and jagged, but strong and unapologetic. Musselwhite's harmonica gives the song the additional power it needs.
By the next track, "Bad Habits," Harper's voice seems to fully inhabit the blues, riffing off of Musselwhite's masterful playing. Ben Harper's stellar guitar work is evident in "Love and Trust," his voice is Mississippi Delta dipped, digging into the murkiness of the meaning of love and trust. The fifth track, "I Found the One," is a foot-tapping hayhouse tune that sounds like the love child of early Bob Marley & The Wailers and "king of the zydeco" Clifton Chenier. Charlie Musselwhite holds things down on the lead vocals for the title track, which is the last song, giving it a weathered, merciless edge. He's recorded over 20 albums and his vocal and instrumental artistry and control are as snug as a new pair of jeans.
Ben Harper has had skin in the music game for a long time, with this being his 14th studio album. He isn't afraid to experiment and keeps his music exciting and fresh by collaborating with various artists, from The Blind Boys of Alabama to Tom Freund. Though he's a bit underrated, he's discovered his niche, which has aided in his longevity. With Robert Johnson and Bob Marley as two of his biggest musical influences, he pays homage to them by staying true to his craft and keeping it organic. No Mercy In This Land is another diamond in the rich mine of his work.
Notable Tracks: “Bad Habits” | “Love and Trust” | “When I Go”