Ben Harper: Winter Is for Lovers
Although it was recorded at the end of 2019, just before the pandemic made its big move, Ben Harper’s Winter Is for Lovers echoes the solitude so many are experiencing right now. A true solo album—just Harper playing instrumentally on his lap-steel guitar, sans accompanists— it’s intimate and meditative, almost as if Harper were anticipating what was just around the corner, a time when we would all be making do with less and counting on our instincts to adjust. Despite the minimal approach, though, Winter Is for Lovers bursts with color and life; there’s a widescreen grandeur emanating from those strings and Harper’s trusty slide. Each of the 15 tracks, ranging in length from a minute and a half to nearly four, bears the name of a geographical location—”Joshua Tree,” “Istanbul,” “Verona. And while some of the melodies evoke those places, the connections are tenuous in others. What is consistent is the spell that Harper weaves. Those familiar with the work of acoustic-guitar genius John Fahey will immediately find a reference point; Harper has acknowledged the influence. Other like-minded artists—Sandy Bull, Leo Kottke, Robbie Basho—also come to mind. But Harper has always been an individualist, and he brings to the style his own flavorings, rhythms and textures. “Harlem” comes to life slowly, with a whisper; more Maui, perhaps, than 125th Street. It maintains its mystery and gentleness while suggesting just a touch of grit. Others—”Islip” and “Inland Empire” among them—are more determinedly brawny. The session blossoms as it rolls on, a self-contained experience to savor regardless of the mood outside.