In putting his longtime backing band the Innocent Criminals on hiatus and teaming up with Austin-to-L.A. transplants Relentless7, Ben Harper has finally made an album that conveys the lived-in groove of his live shows. And if he’s still wearing his obvious influences too prominently to come up with something truly creative or progressive, Harper brings a real conviction and energy to his performances here, and this enthusiasm makes for a pretty fun rock record. “Shimmer and Shine,” Harper’s best single in years, and opener “Number with No Name” are driven by blustery Texas-blues power chords, and acoustic ballads like “Skin Thin” and “Faithfully Remain” avoid the lazy jam-band digressions that have bogged down his previous albums. The standout cut, though, is “Why Do You Always Have to Dress in Black,” on which Harper’s blistering slide guitar plays against guitarist Jason Mozersky’s inspired blues riffs; it’s the closest the record comes to blending Harper’s influences into something distinctive rather than playing simple homage, and it’s also a clever spin on the no-good-woman blues trope. The lack of originality on White Lies for Dark Times is a major hindrance, but the execution of these stylistic pastiches by Harper and Relentless7 is so dead-on that it’s easy to appreciate the record on its own modest terms.
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