For the last few years, Ben Harper seems like an artist that’s been searching for new life with his musical ambitions. Since disbanding with the Innocent Criminals (their last album together was in 2007), Harper hasn’t skipped a beat in terms of productivity. Get Up! his latest album (Stax), a collaboration with blues-harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite, is Harper’s third album in 4 years. And while the demeanor of the album (essentially, it’s a blues record) may seem like the most drastic musical departure that we’ve heard from Ben, it actually underscores everything we’ve come to know about Ben over the last couple decades.
When you think back to the albums that Ben made with the Innocent Criminals, there was always something soulful, near spiritual with those albums. As he moved on to make two records with The Relentless 7, Ben chose to unleash a little more aggression and hone in on his rock sensibility. On Get Up! Ben strips back the angst, reclaims the soul and adds a touch of vulnerability to the equation. Challenges in his personal life including the end of his marriage seem to have fueled a new path of songwriting for Ben, and also a reintroduction to the blues. It’s not hard to hear the struggle on songs like “We Can’t End This Way” and the lament of losing a friend on “You Found Another Lover.” Rarely have we heard Ben as exposed in his songs as he is on Get Up!
While Get Up! certainly hones in on Ben personally and the vulnerability that often comes with the blues, it’s called Get Up for a reason. Let’s not forget, Charlie Musselwhite shares the marquee with Ben. His harmonica drives the bluesy stomp “I’m In I’m Out and I’m Gone.” The two burn it up on “Blood Side Out.” And that passion and power that Ben has captivated us with over the years turns almost Zeppelin-like on “I Don’t Believe a World You Say.” Some may say that Get Up! is a new direction for Ben Harper, but it may actually be better labeled as a new beginning.