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Harper - Stand Together

Blind Pig Records

12 tracks/47:48

For his third release for Blind Pig, Harper has made several changes – he produced the sessions himself as well as using his touring band, Midwest Kind, for the project. The disc also features a number of tracks with Harper playing the didgeridoo, an instrument used by the native Aborigines of Australia. He also handles all of the vocals, plays harmonica and keyboards in addition to writing all of the songs on the disc. His band consists Gregg Leonard on guitar, Chris Du Ross on acoustic guitar, Chris Wiley Smith on bass, Marc Dixon on drums & percussion and Kurt Wolak on a variety of keyboards.

The decision to use his regular band pays off as all of the tracks bristle with energy and the tight grooves that come from thoroughly road-tested material. Employing the didgeridoo on the opening cut, Harper creates a haunting backdrop on “I Never Want” that transports listeners into mystical territory. “Looking at You” features Harper’s supple voice and a strong performance from Midwest Kind. The big drumbeat and swirling tones from the didgeridoo on “We Stand Together” bring to mind the classic sound of the great Australian band Midnight Oil. “Weaker Man” finds Harper playing some bluesy harp to accompany another strong vocal performance.

On “Chill Out”, Harper makes it clear to a former lover that he never really cared for her as Leonard lays down some tasty guitar parts. Harper showcases his harp playing on “What Are You Gonna Do”, unleashing several runs of cascading notes. The tonal quality and lightening-quick pace of his playing conjure up images of John Popper of Blues Traveler. The band rocks hard on “Damn Shame” while Harper delivers another outstanding vocal on the ballad “Take These Arms”.

There are two elements that are missing from this release. First, there are a few moments where Harper injects a couple tenuous blues references into the proceedings. While Harper successfully blends a number of disparate musical influences into a coherent package, the blues content is minimal. One could easily imagine this recording appealing to fans of the jam-band genre. And while Harper has crafted a disc full of well-played arrangements, he falls short in writing lyrics that pack the punch of his music. Some of the lines border on cliché while other lines are repeated multiple times to the point of overkill. While no one would argue with the sentiment expressed in “Love=Peace=Freedom”, Harper repeats the title more than ten times throughout the track and negates the momentum of the swirling arrangement.

There is no doubt that Harper is a talented performer and engaging vocalist. There is plenty to enjoy on this release as long as you are looking for music that extends beyond the blues tradition to a worldly view, befitting a man born in the United Kingdom, raised in Australia and residing in Michigan. .

Reviewer Mark Thompson is president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL.

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