March 26, 2018 Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite – No Mercy In This Land (Album Review)
You can’t phone in the Blues: either you’ve got it or you don’t. On No Mercy In This Land, which arrives March 30, 2018, thanks to Anti-, the brilliant talents of Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite prove that sincerity cannot be bought – unless it is on this record.
How do you summarize the extraordinary Ben Harper in one paragraph? The Grammy Award-winning multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter debuted in 1994 with Welcome to the Cruel World and would go on to record twelve albums – from 1995’s pivotal Fight for Your Mind to 2016’s Call It What It Is – over the next 25 years.
A lover and student of the Blues, in 2013, Harper would collaborate with his good friend, the phenomenally-talented Charlie Musselwhite, on the album Get Up!, which would go on to win the 2014 Grammy Award for Best Blues Album. Musselwhite, also known as Memphis Charlie, a band-leader and exceptional harmonica player, is a living legend with some 35 album credits to his own name, not to mention an over fifty-year career in music.
Friends first and musical compatriots second, Musselwhite and Harper recently recorded their second collaboration, the ten-song No Mercy In This Land. A phenomenal ode to the enduring spirit of the Blues, the album offers up a beautifully sincere and candid collection that is at all times emotionally raw and superbly-authored, sultry in sound and keen in its lyrical content.
No Mercy In This Land begins with deep harmonies that move into the Blues jam of “When I Go,” a calculated pace that emphasizes the intensity of its minimalist lyrics and flawless, gritty musicianship. The tempo picks up and so does the sass for “Bad Habits” (“I cry one a day, it’s a condition of the heart”), a truly grooving ditty that showcases the talents of its ensemble cast of musicians.
The gentle groove of “Love and Trust” looks to find what we all seek, while the sassy little ode to the juice, “The Bottle Wins Again,” prances like an alley cat. The catchy little “Found The One” offers up some sage wisdom (“If you’re gonna gamble, it may as well be on love”) in its hip-shakin’ approach, while the beautifully bittersweet ballad “When Love Is Not Enough” tugs at the heart with each touch of the guitar string. Meanwhile, Musselwhite’s harmonica harmonizes with Harper’s vocals on the delicately meandering “Trust You To Dig My Grave.”
A stand-out in an already stellar collection, album namesake “No Mercy In This Land” places Harper’s crisp vocals against Musselwhite’s raw and impassioned offerings, weaving a tale with political leanings and yet nothing is ever crammed down the throat. The upbeat trot of “Movin’ On” is slightly deceptive, as lyrically this is no dancin’ good time but rather a kiss off to those people and situations that do nothin’ but bring the blues. The collection ends with the straight-forward, piano-anchored ballad “Nothing At All,” a little pop-ier than the rest of the collection and a stunningly raw emotional album closer with one truly gorgeous harmonica solo.
The strength of No Mercy In This Land is its simplicity, its forthright sincerity and its phenomenal musicianship. No, you cannot fool the Blues and the pairing of Charlie Musselwhite and Ben Harper requires no trickery, sonically speaking: these two men have the goods in spades. In a recent interview with CrypticRock, Harper expressed how the recording of the album has left him spent, which makes sense: there is a cleansing quality to No Mercy In This Land that washes away all the minutiae of life to leave its listeners emotionally spent but enthusiastically open. For these reasons, CrypticRock give Charlie Musselwhite and Ben Harper’s No Mercy In This Land 5 of 5 stars.