Ben Harper didn’t learn his lesson. After a string of albums trudging through a jarring stylistic mishmash, 2007’s Lifeline narrowed its focus to a country-soul slant and took the time to perfect it before going into the studio. The result was a record that, for anyone who was still paying attention, quietly unveiled more than a few worthy tracks, mellow and pleasant in all the right ways. But Harper just can’t seem to help himself; White Lies For Dark Times—recorded with new backing band Relentless7—is another jumbled grab bag of uninspired blues-folk. It’s a shame, because there are songs here Harper has clearly put thought into: “Skin Thin,” the album’s best cut, glides over a soft, groovy hook with delicate ease, as does soulful closing track “Faithfully Remain.” But the compelling moments are drowned in a sea of bland jams, a churning mix of pointless repetition and noisy, tired riffing. Harper’s attempts at Delta Blues don’t benefit from a lazily loose West Coast feel, and his Hendrix rehashing has become frustratingly stale. White Lies For Dark Times succeeds when cool and carefree; when the album ups the energy, however, it’s channeled through the formulaic licks found at on any average summer-festival circuit, suggesting Lifeline’s high standards were an anomaly.
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