Ben Harper – Winter Is For Lovers: Album Review

Ben Harper releases a cracker at the end of 2020. An evocative tribute in sound to the lap-steel virtuoso’s favourite locations.

Release Date:  23rd October 2020

Label: ANTI-Records

Formats: CD, stream, download, vinyl

Ben Harper’s new album, Winter Is For Lovers, is a masterpiece.  Described as a “lap-steel symphony” it features Ben, with his lap-steel guitar, and nothing else.  Not even vocals.  And it’s wonderful!

Each track is named after a different geographic location that has, at some point, provided Ben with influence or inspiration.  The album is presented as a single body of work, and is clearly intended to heard in that manner. The tracks flow effortlessly from one to the next and the music takes the listener along on a soothing virtual world tour.

Of course, the music of Ben Harper will be familiar to many.  He’s been releasing albums since the early 1990s and Winter Is For Lovers is his 13th solo album.  He’s a three-times Grammy winner and has worked with the likes of Mavis Staples, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Natalie Maines, Rickie Lee Jones and many, many more.  Winter Is For Lovers is perceived as perhaps a culmination of Ben’s musical career to date, and I wouldn’t argue with that.

Make no mistake, the music on this album is breathtaking.  I’m amazed how a single instrument can provide such a rich variety of tones and emotions and, as we visit the various locations, we get glimpses of a staggering range of musical styles. Blues, ragtime, flamenco, rock, ambient, Celtic and Eastern music all get a look-in and all are played with the virtuoso fluency that marks out a true master. 

Ben was attracted to the lap-steel guitar at a very early age, he developed his early style by emulating the blues of Son House and Blind Willie Johnson, the classical stylings of Andrés Segovia and the flamenco offerings of Sabicias and Carlos Montoya, and took tuition from Taj Mahal and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Chris Darrow – that’s quite an apprenticeship!

Ben captures perfectly the essence of each of the places we visit during this symphony. Istanbul has a bluesy, Eastern feel (and a guitar sound that exudes a Richard Thompson influence); New York reveals splashes of demented ragtime and Joshua Tree is a piece of flamenco that would fit snugly onto Miles Davis’s Sketches Of Spain and which vividly evokes the hot Californian desert landscape.  Inland Empire (named after the region of Southern California where Ben grew up and learned his chops) is a melodic, accessible waltz, whilst Harlem is slow, ponderous and relaxing.  London is raucous and rocky and brings to mind Led Zeppelin’s Hats Off To (a different) Harper. The wonderful Verona brings to mind a gentle drift through a summery river scene and Bizanet is a bluesy theme that gradually speeds up to showcase Ben’s playing at its virtuoso best.

The album winds down with the tuneful, pastoral Islip before things are wrapped up with the magnificent Paris.  Ben has described Paris as “a walk through a Paris park on a beautiful day.”  I couldn’t have suggested a better description.

Winter is For Lovers is an excellent album; tuneful, evocative, faultless and quietly relaxing.  You have to check this one out.

Watch the official video for Paris from the album here:

Ben Harper online:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Youtube

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