Ben Harper “Wide Open Light”

Chrysalis, 2023

With its minimalistic production Harper’s 16th studio album finds the three-time Grammy winner delivering his most intimate and reflective offering to date.

artwork for Ben Harper album "Wide Open Light".Fresh from supplying his sublime guitar skills to Harry Styles’ chart-topping and multi-award winning album ‘Harry’s House’ Harper has chosen to tackle the conundrum of how to follow that by turning the spotlight on himself with his new album ‘Wide Open Light’ and its stripped back arrangement encompassing a collection of songs soaked in reflective contemplation. Unlike its predecessor the Grammy-nominated ‘Bloodline Maintenance’ this new album is primarily an acoustic offering with little or no amplification which creates an audible sense of space around which the songs have room to breath and for the lyrical narrative to take centre stage with each song closely related to the next. In truth it is a testament to the quality of these songs both individually and as a collective that they require no support through story or fable but simply the subtlest of touches from the control room along with the highest level of musicianship to present them in their best light.

The recurring theme of broken relationships haunt a number of the tracks including ‘Giving Ghosts’ with its opening line from the chorus “In all of my days you mean the most, now I’ve got to give up the ghost” as Harper contemplates the impending changes to his world along with a reluctant acceptance of one of age’s more sobering pranks as he opens verse two with the line “Every day I look more like my father, every day I look less like myself”. All this leads us perfectly to ‘Yard Sale’ the first single from the album which sees Jack Johnson supply both backing vocals as well as some wonderful slack-key guitar playing as our protagonist laments his lost loved calling one last time to collect her personal belongings singing “love is a yard sale” before stating “it will hold your future hostage, and bargain for your past”.

There is no disguising that this is clearly a ‘break up’ album and though there are moments of positive reflection such as from the track ‘Masterpiece’ where Harper expresses that “loving you is my masterpiece” it is clear as verse bleeds into verse, song into song that the lovers are drifting further and further apart revealing both their emotional debris and growing indignation. With ‘8 Minutes’ we deal with the anger as Harper cries “May the places our hearts first broke all burn down” his pain softened by the sweetness of the backing vocals which along with the bright chord changes from the acoustic accompaniment help to create the perfect juxtaposition. By the time we get to ‘Trying Not To Fall In Love With You’ the intimation is one of moving on and leaving the past behind. The arrangement here is strikingly different being piano led with the left hand thumping out some heavy bass notes while the right plays minor key chords with a staccato delivery that creates a sinister tension. This all helps to give the song a sense of vaudeville with vocals reminiscent of Randy Newman or even late sixties Phil Ochs.

The album is top ‘n’ tailed by two instrumental tracks that both advertise Harper’s prowess on the guitar. The first ‘Heart and Crown’ an acoustic picked blues with a beautiful melody while ‘Thank you Pat Brayer’ and its atmospheric ambience helps to bring the album to a suitable conclusion. It’s hard to know whether the recurring subject matter of heartbreak are reference points in Harper’s own personal life or just the muses of a master of his craft, either way the songs collected here on ‘Wide Open Light’ amply demonstrate Harper’s skill as a songwriter, guitarist and producer and confidently stands out as one of the finest of his career to date.

8/10
8/10

About Graeme Tait 131 Articles
Hi. I'm Graeme, a child of the sixties, eldest of three, born into a Forces family. Keen guitar player since my teens, (amateur level only), I have a wide, eclectic taste in music and an album collection that exceeds 5.000. Currently reside in the beautiful city of Lincoln.
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