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Ben Harper
Both Sides Of The Gun
Virgin Records

There is little that could be said about Ben Harper that hasn't been said before. Sometime in the 90's he came along with his highly soulful vocal style to take the place that we lost when Lenny Kravitz went just a bit off the deep end. Harper has always been a bit bluesy and a little bit folky, but always very honest and passionate in his songwriting and delivery. Both Sides Of The Gun is no different from that precedent, but finds Ben Harper rounding out his songwriting into an even more involved and personal style.

Both Sides Of The Gun is split into two CDs, each one with it's own distinctive personality. Disc one is made up of the more tender, thoughtful songs , while disc two's songs rock out a bit more, presenting outrage and disillusionment. "Morning Yearning" is a beautiful track, and typifies the type of song on disc one. The song is a fleshed out acoustic track, with strings and light piano setting the mood for the yearning vocals. "Waiting For You" is another slow number, thick with strings and amorous melodies, that is perfect for reflection on life and love. By the time the drums of "Sweet Nothing Serenade" start in, they seem to be almost out of place among these tranquil songs, but the light acoustic blues of the lead guitar sets a nice tone for this instrumental song. The tender apology of "More Than Sorry" nicely rounds out the somberly soft feel of disc one.

Right out of the gate, disc two steps the pace up quite a bit with the energetic frenzy of "Better Way". Different from the radio edit, the album track has a bridge section that finds Ben Harper screaming along - somewhat reminiscent of the Spongmonkeys - weirdly offsetting the eastern flair of the music as it falls apart in a tangle of sound. "Engraved Invitation" has an almost AC/DC quality, crunchy guitars and a deliberate rhythm that recalls that classic heavy rock, but with more melodic accents… and a wailing guitar solo, to top it off. By the time "Black Rain" starts with its wah-wah guitar, it is hardly a surprise that R'n'B has found its way into Harper's musical vocabulary. This track could have been lifted off Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium record... it has the same excellently layered sound qualities and sharp rhythmic melodies, the exception is its distinctive Ben Harper vocals. "Please Don't Talk About Murder While I'm Eating" kicks in with enough of a stomp rhythm and twangy guitars to sound almost country, but retains the distinctive loose blues vibe for which Harper has long been known. As the natural progression, "Get It Like You Like It" sounds almost like early Rolling Stones, filled with crisp borrowed-bluesy guitar riffs and thick harmony vocals over a honky tonk piano line.

Ben Harper continues to impress with his songwriting and emotive discourse on Both Sides Of The Gun. The album is filled with meaningful and personal songs that are presented in such varied musical backdrops so as never to become dull. The dual disc format really showcases the musical and writing abilities, as well as the simple versatility of Ben Harper's songs.

-L. Keane

Disc: 1
1. Morning Yearning
2. Waiting For You
3. Picture In A Frame
4. Never Leave Lonely Alone
5. Sweet Nothing Serenade
6. Reason To Mourn
7. More Than Sorry
8. Cryin' Won't Help You Now
9. Happy Everafter In Your Eyes
Disc: 2
1. Better Way
2. Both Sides Of The Gun
3. Engraved Invitation
4. Black Rain
5. Gather 'Round The Stone
6. Please Don't Talk About Murder While I'm Eating
7. Get It Like You Like It
8. The Way You Found Me
9. Serve Your Soul

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