It’s unfortunate for the artist that goes through a divorce, but boy oh boy, do his listeners reap the benefits. It’s written in history that musicians produce some of their best work during that painful experience: Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear, Billy Joel with a quarter of the songs he’s ever written. And now, Ben Harper can smile a tiny bit knowing his agony has done the same.
One would think that after filing for divorce eight months ago, Harper would fill his new record with lamenting acoustic tracks along the lines of his earlier work “Walk Away” and “Another Lonely Day.” (Not that they don’t exist here; it’s still a Ben Harper album.) With Give Till It’s Gone, though, fans are retreated back to the early ‘90s Innocent Criminal roots…meaning Ben’s rockin’ really, really hard. This is an electric LP, and the California native never stops at verse-chorus-verse. On the soft ballad “I Will Not Be Broken,” yields a full two minutes of screeching, distorted soloing, and “Clearly Severely,” has the edge to be mistaken for an Incubus song for the first 25 seconds. (You know, until Harper sings.)
Yet his most amazing moment comes with a little help from his friend, Ringo Starr, on the medley of “Spilling Faith” into the instrumental jam track “Get There From Here.” Harper’s already proven his talent on a Weissenborn lap slide guitar over the last 17 years, but he’s never meshed it with the experience of someone who was in, well, the greatest studio act of all time. So when you combine the two, it’s preconceived what the outcome will be. Get those amps to eleven, Ben; you’ve got a new set-ender on tour.
Loss, desperation and confusion haven’t held Harper back. This is one of the better rock albums this year, and arguably one of the best of his career. Rather than mope, he jams out the frustration, “giving till it’s gone,” you could say. But let’s hope he isn’t running on empty, because if this is the road he’s headed back down, we’re sure as hell going to want more really soon.