Ben Harper

Both Sides Of the Gun

Album E Card

There are few performers today whose approach to making music is as eclectic as that of Ben Harper. At times he's been accused of being too eclectic for his own good. One bunch of fans wishes he'd make an all-rock album. Aficionados of his gentler, acoustic style want a singer-songwriter record. Harper's solution has always been to mix and match his different musical styles so that everyone gets a piece of what pleases them.

Listen to tracks from the new album now

On 'Both Sides Of The Gun', his sixth solo studio album, he's come up with a somewhat different solution. It's a double album, comprising one disc of his heavier, more groove-driven material and a second showcasing his gentler, mellower side. Yet it's not a conventional double album, for all 18 songs would have comfortably fitted on a single disc. Indeed, Harper doesn't even call it a double album but a record comprising two different movements. "It's only just over an hour's worth of music, so it's not a case of 'Ben Harper can't edit his work' or me falling into the trap of a megalomaniacal mid-career artist not knowing when to shut up," he points out. "The simple truth was that these songs were harder to mix up than anything I've done before because the extremes are more polarised than they've ever been. One half is as raw and loose as anything I've ever done and the other half is as introspective and intimate as I've gotten - so much so that they clearly didn't fit together on one disc. The music spoke for itself and demanded to be separated into two different movements."

Harper rates Both Sides Of The Gun, as his most satisfying and rounded set to date. It was recorded over three months in the Dust Brothers' studio in LA and from the title track onwards there's a powerful social and political conscience pervades many of the songs. "It's a charged record," Harper admits. "I feel a necessity to step up at this moment in time and a responsibility to use my voice. Justice is for those who can afford it in America. If you can't get justice through the political and social structure as it's currently organised, I've damn sure going to get some justice in my music."

Perhaps most potent of all is his anger at what happened in New Orleans, which bursts forth on Black Rain, a song written and recorded spontaneously the day after Hurricane Katrina struck the city. "That was hot-off-the-press," he says. "If America ever needed a sign that it's government didn't give a shit about its citizens, that was it. It frightened me to death and it was time to act. We put down the song we were working on and what is on tape is pure and absolute bitter rage and disgust. We laid down the drum track, called in the strings and wrote the lyrics that day. It knocked something else of the record because it demanded to be on there."

Yet even Harper's most political songs have always dealt in hope, and I Believe In A Better Way on the new album sets out his credo. "It's always been a theme of mine to lean on the side of positivity regardless of how dark the hour," he says.

Not all of the album is so message-laden. Get It Like You Like It is a blatant Stones-style rocker . "The Stones got to play in the blues toy box. Now I'm playing in their toy box," he says. The Way You Found Me is a slice of cool jazz, and Serve Your Soul is a typical, groove-laden Harper epic that he says he can't wait to play live. On the second disc, the warmth and intimacy of songs such as Happy Ever After In Your Eyes, Morning Yearning and Waiting For You brilliantly display his ability to write about matters of the heart, with piano and strings complementing his virtuoso guitar-playing.Both Sides of The Gun finds Ben Harper on a roll and making the most assured and relaxed music of his career to date. "When I made this record, for the first time it felt as natural to be in the studio as it is does to be on stage," he says. "The way I see it, the first five records were experiments and we got real lucky with some freewheeling ideas. I feel this is the album on which I've finally applied everything I've learned."

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