As artists grow and their musical styles mature, change is
inevitable. It is a byproduct of growth and a healthy sign that
those highly artistic and talented minds haven’t yet given
all that they’ve got. Often this transition works and the
artist is easily able to carry their dedicated and faithful fan
base with them into their new era of sound but hey travel too far
in the wrong direction and end up completely abandoning their
signature sound. Ben Harper, who is best known for his catchy
blends of funk, rock, blues and soul, walks this very fine line
with his newest release, There Will Be Light.

Music Reviews
We may look tough, but we sound like Dave Matthews Band. (Courtesy of Virgin)

Leaving behind his band The Innocent Criminals, Harper has
teamed up with the historic gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama
to create his first gospel album. Harper’s music has always
contained religious undertones, but never to this capacity. The
Blind Boys, all of whom are legally blind, have a very powerful
musical presence that provides a solid base for Harper’s rich
voice. Together these two forces have found musical success;
however, it still does leave the listener longing, at times, for
that familiar Harper sound that he has secured for himself over the
years.

Of Harper’s many obvious musical talents, his ability to
incorporate variety and push his musical boundaries has always kept
him ahead of the pack. For the 11 tracks on this album, Harper uses
his magic to fuse a variety of sounds with the highly traditional
vibe brought in by The Blind Boys, creating an eclectic but still
balanced gospel album. Songs range from the upbeat country rock
“Church On Time” to the slow and piano-heavy
“Where Could I Go,” a chilling spiritual ballad that
fits the clarity of Harper’s powerful voice to a T.

Traces of Harper’s funk roots can be heard in the catchy
“Church House Steps” and similar sounding “Wicked
Man.” However, in “Wicked Man” especially, the
beats are too safe and too toned-down to give the song life and
energy. The album also includes traditional songs such as the
spiritual a capella ballad “Mother Pray” which uses
four-part harmonies to achieve that old-time church choir feel.
Other notable songs on the album include the instrumental
“11th Commandment,” which sadly is only one of two
songs to really show off Harper’s infamous slide guitar
skills. And the title track, “There Will Be A Light,”
stands out as the most fan-friendly tune, with its easy beats,
strong vocals and memorable chorus.

Whether it be his usual acoustic ballad or a highly spiritual
ode to Jesus, Ben Harper certainly knows what he’s doing. He
succeeds at blending styles to make this newer gospel sound his
own. There Will Be Light, however, lacks familiarities such
as his slide guitar, jammy acoustic rocking and funk beats and, in
the end, levels itself off as a great album that was just made for
the wrong audience.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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