Album Review: Ben Harper, ‘Winter Is For Lovers’

Winter Is For Lovers may be the perfect album for our time. The spareness of the sound—it’s just Ben Harper and his lap steel—evokes the ways individuals wander down roads in search of love, in search of themselves, in search of others, in search of community, but the lush rhythms of the guitar, with individual notes snaking their way under and around the tremulous chords Harper pulls from his instrument capture the serenity of being one with another in community. Winter Is For Lovers is an orchestra for lap steel; Harper follows themes along through each tune, even as each tune weaves into the full symphony of sound; each piece creates a setting and a tone, moving listeners through various musical and physical landscapes for which the tunes are named.

The mournful “Joshua Tree,” opens with a strum, moving quickly into a series of lead runs call back to the choral strums. The back and forth between—not quite a call and response, but certainly a tender dialogue—the notes and the chords creates a spacious atmosphere that conjures up images of the arid beauty and the haunting mystery of Joshua Tree. The jaunty “Manhattan,” riding along bright chords and scampering leads re-creates a night in New York City, with all its glimmer and glitter and happiness; a bass line and minor chord at the end of several measures illustrates the dark tones that lie underneath the brightness of the night. The caressing chords of “Inland Empire” tremble with gentle joy in a loving tribute to the region of southern California where Harper grew up, while the spiraling lead notes of “Lebanon” bloom into a powerful, trance-like rhythm that captures the urgency and beauty of a street market as well as the cadence of a Lebanese dance. The softly meditative “Islip” luxuriantly casts a spell of magic, guiding us toward a harbor of rest, while the propulsive “London” recalls the rockers of England such as John Matryn and Jimmy Page. The album closes with the strolling sidewalk song “Paris,” which strides along joyfully with a gleam and a glimmer and a glance to a new day.

Winter Is For Lovers reveals Ben Harper playing at the top of his game. Elegant undertones weave themselves around gorgeous overtones, jaunty melodies snake through haunting harmonies, and Harper creates a grand musical space into which listeners can enter at their leisure to be carried along by the music.

Winter Is For Lovers is available now – HERE.

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