The Deal: Ben Harper releases debut album with his new group, Relentless 7.
The Good: It's a harder rock side of Harper that wasn't previously seen much in the past with the Innocent Criminals. Harper hasn't lost his vocal prowess, but has simply turned the amps up a bit and let the band loose. I can't help but wonder if part of this was influenced by the Superjam at Bonnaroo 2007 when he shared the stage with ?uestlove and John Paul Jones for a set of Led Zeppelin covers. There's a definite '60s rock and '70s soul ("Lay There & Hate Me") influence here with grooves reminiscent of The Jimi Hendrix Experience and classic rock with more of a blues edge. He finds plenty of moments to play slide guitar while "Why Must You Always Dress In Black" sounds like some kind of Robert Randolph outtake. Even when he slows down into something that sounds like Cat Stevens – "Skin Thin" – Harper shows his talent as a songwriter and singer. "Keep it Together" lets the guitar riffs fly so loudly that they nearly overshadow any vocals and the notes twist and turn, surrounding every word like a blanket.
The Bad: No complaints.
The Verdict: Harper has taken his previous efforts and kicked them into overdrive into something more raw and musically powerful. Where he previously used his vocals to convey emotion, the music is contributing a lot more to that with the Relentless 7. It's another album on my list in the running for the best of 2009.