The Friday Mix: Deep and passionate rock from Ben Harper
For the Friday mix today I want to do one of my favorite things: make a mix of the best of a single artist. Today I hope to turn any stragglers on to Ben Harper. Harper is a phenomenal guitar player, a brilliant songwriter, a strong singer, and an electrifying presence on stage.
I’ve been lucky enough to see him numerous times as an opening act, as a headliner, and at festivals. If you haven’t seen him, don’t miss your next opportunity; he puts on a great show and his band is amazing. If you haven’t listened to his music somehow, start buying them one at a time (so you have a chance to digest each one before the next).
I will confess I don’t have all of his albums, so this mix is just my favorites from what I know. If I’ve missed something that you feel strongly about, feel free to let me know.
- Breakin’ Down – From his second album, “Welcome to the Cruel World,” this has a great up-tempo energy.
- How Many Miles Must We March – Harper is a passionate man with strong opinions on issues of race, equality, and freedom. This is one of his earliest anthems.
- Faded – The opening track on the first Ben Harper album I ever bought. I love the way he will play an absolutely ripping guitar riff, but sing gently and sweetly.
- Homeless Child – The album is well sequenced, and this track follows ‘Faded’ perfectly. In fact, I knitted the two together in my collection because I am so used to them coming up together on the CD.
- Roses from my Friends – The lyrics to this song are beautiful and my understanding is they relate the feelings of a middle eastern man who is facing some corporal punishment – being placed in stocks, which some people don’t survive – for sharing banned books. On his way to the stocks, he says goodbye to his family. Stones are thrown at him by his enemies, which doesn’t affect him much, but he is heartbroken by his friends giving him roses.
- The Will To Live – Great bass work in this song and, of course, the guitar work is superlative.
- Mama’s Trippin’ – This might be my favorite track on this album. The funky horns make me think of something off of Lenny Kravitz’s “Let Love Rule.”
- Steal My Kisses – The second Harper album I got was “Burn to Shine” and it contains this, my daughter’s favorite Harper song. It’s a fun feel-good tune, too.
- Forgiven – There are only live versions of this one on YouTube, but I’m sending you there anyway. You get a good look at his setup on this one. He usually has a big area rug down and a comfy chair to sit in while he plays slide guitar. Oh, and the song utterly rocks.
- Burn One Down – What a pleasant, peaceful tune. And you know what? It’s just possible that Harper is a fan of cannabis. “Herb is a gift from the Earth and what’s from the Earth is of the greatest worth. So before you knock it, try it first and you’ll see it’s a blessing and it’s not a curse. If you don’t like my fire, then don’t come around ‘cos I’m gonna burn one down.”
- Ground on Down – You may have read some of these song descriptions without following the links, but this one is not to be missed, particularly with the fabulous video they made for it.
- With My Own Two Hands – Whenever I hear that song by John Mayer, “Waitin’ for the World to Change,’ I think of this song in which Harper proclaims, “I can change the world with my own two hands.” The inspiring message is right at home in this reggae groove.
- Diamonds on the Inside – Pop genius with a guitar hook so fat you may have to change your screen resolution to watch the video.
- Everything – This is a pretty, up-tempo love song but he has a gift for lyrics and avoids sounding cliché. “The colors of your garden, they’re yellow, blue, and green. And the sound of your sweet voice, it’s better than all my dreams.”
- Better Way – This is off Harper’s 2006 release, “Both Sides of the Gun.” He chooses some interesting harmonies and rocks a little sitar for this one.
- Please Don’t Talk About Murder While I’m Eating – Another great rocker and it has a different feel from a lot of his older stuff. Harper continues to grow and stretch. This is a live performance, but it the studio version isn’t any tighter.
- Take My Hand – Harper put together a gospel project with The Blind Boys of Alabama in 2004 called “There Will Be a Light.” It’s a brilliant pairing. Forgive the narcissistic photo montage somebody put up with this song. It’s the only studio version of this song on YouTube. I’m not gay, but if I was…
- Strawberry Fields – Harper contributed this one to the great “I Am Sam” soundtrack. It’s not very far from The Beatles’ arrangement but he handles this with a delicate touch and keeps it moving and lyrical.
Alright I’m going to stop now, but I have many more on my iPod. If you haven’t delved into Harper’s catalog, I hope this list inspires you to do so. Enjoy this with a fine wine that has improved with age. Have a great weekend.
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