- Artist: Ben Harper
- Title: Fight For Your Mind
- Released: 1995
- Format: 180g Vinyl (Double Album)
- Genre: Singer Songwriter/Folk Rock/Rock
- Beverage of Choice: Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA
Los Angeles native Ben Harper personifies the cool associated with the world’s entertainment hub. On the other hand, his humility and lyrical openness nullify the negative aspects of that association, putting him, artistically and musically , in a class of his own.
Nowadays Harper is phenomenally successful, with a large fan base and recognizable brand. His body of work encompasses a quarter-century of consistent effort and critical acclaim. But, in 1995, he was just another singer-songwriter trying to break into an industry that typically looks first to marketability and only then to talent. Turns out, talent wins every time – look no further for evidence than Ben’s multiple Grammy awards.
Harper’s sophomore release is arguably his most focused, consistent and intense. At it’s core, ‘Fight for Your Mind’ is a percussive marvel, built on tabla, tambourine, snare, cymbal, bells and groove. Adding piano for space, and, one of my favorite instruments, Hammond organ, (on “By My Side“), only adds to the distinctive sound and energy of the record. Harper is a virtuoso on lap steel, his favorite weapon being an original hand-made Weissenborn from the 1920’s. In my opinion, you can experience one of his most brilliant and effective solos on “God Fearing Man“.
Harper’s deceptively simple acoustic guitar riffs were the inspiration for me purchasing a Taylor 610 CE and a learning to (note by note) timidly reconstruct the intro to “Power of the Gospel“, “Another Lonely Day” and “Number Three” (from the followup album ‘Will to Live’). The guitar is a counterpoint to percussion but, at times, is also used as a percussive instrument adding to the tight rhythms of the record.
Lyrically, Harper explores themes ranging from simple introspection to social consciousness and ultimately an overall spiritually pervades his work. Some of his most directly personal work reference his relationship to God, faith and reverence (“Ground on Down” is a prime example).
Harper’s vocal delivery is at first restrained, even hushed at times, and then, by multiples unleashed with emotion unchecked, his voice sometimes cracking with the sheer intensity of delivery. (Check out “Please Bleed” on ‘Live from Mars’ and “Fight For Your Mind”). I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t claim to any operatic aspirations (in a recent interview Harper said (paraphrased) that “he would be thrown off American Idol immediately”) but his delivery works perfectly in context of the range and tonality of his voice. The authenticity, emotional intensity and passion of his vision punch through the recording wall on this album.
The arrangements and spacial depth on these songs provide a perfect backdrop to the vocals- forward mix on the album. Perversely, my favorite track has no percussion at all but replaces all the riffs with strings and unfiltered vocal. It’s now incumbent on you to listen and figure out which song it is; comment below and the first correct response wins. And, if you’re wrong, you still win because you’ve just listened to a modern classic. ‘Fight For Your Mind’ is best experienced through a good set of bass-rich speakers at full volume.