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Music Review: Winter Is for Lovers

by Ben HarperANTI-RECORDS
reviewed by Damon Orion

Winter Is for Lovers
Ben Harper
ANTI-RECORDS

With his latest project, folk/blues musician Ben Harper has taken the idea of a solo album to its logical extreme. Gone are Harper’s vocals, as is his usual backup band The Innocent Criminals. Winter Is for Lovers consists entirely of sounds emanating from a Monteleone lap steel guitar. The textural sparseness creates an atmosphere simultaneously warm and barren, perfectly suited to the album’s title.

Harper recorded Winter at his grandparents’ instrument shop, The Folk Music Store. While working in that shop as a child, he met luminaries like Leonard Cohen, Ry Cooder, Jackson Browne, and Taj Mahal, the last of whom taught him to play fingerstyle guitar. Along with blues guitarists like Mahal, this album pays tribute to the classical, flamenco, Hawaiian, Indian, and so-called “American primitive” players who furthered Harper’s musical development.

As opposed to songs, these 15 pieces are intended to be experienced as movements in a symphony. Each section is named after a part of the world that provided musical inspiration for this project. For example, “London” is a nod to British guitarists like Jimmy Page, Richard Thompson, and John Martyn, while “Inland Empire” is an homage to the area in Southern California where Harper grew up, both as a person and as a musician.

On the whole, Harper’s playing on this album emphasizes hummable melodies over technical muscle. The album does have its pleasantly flashy passages, though—most notably, the agile fingerpicking and hammer-ons in “Bizanet” and the deft slides at the end of the album’s last track, “Paris.”

Winter Is for Lovers makes up in stylistic diversity what it might lack in timbral variety. Consider it a sampler platter of musical flavors from all over the globe, presented in a style unique to its maker.


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