At work on sophomore album, Ben Harper and Relentless7 hit their stride

Singer/Songwriter comes to Baltimore’s Pier Six as part of national tour

April 16, 2010|By Sam Sessa, The Baltimore Sun

Lately, life has been a blur for singer/songwriter Ben Harper.

At 5 a.m. last Friday, Harper and the Relentless7 walked out of Jackson Browne's Groove Masters recording studio in Santa Monica with a fully mixed new record. Without missing a beat, they completed their plans for the next national tour, which started Thursday in Illinois, brings them to Baltimore's Pier Six Pavilion on Tuesday and continues through the summer.

It's only been a year since Harper's last release, "White Lies for Dark Times" — Harper's first with the Relentless7 — but the square-jawed singer doesn't take much downtime between albums. Since 2001, he has released six studio and two live records, and the new one, titled "Give ‘Til It's Gone," could surface later this year.

"Give ‘Til It's Gone" might be Harper's second album with the Relentless7, whom he recruited in 2008, but for Harper, it feels like the first.

"On the first record, we didn't have any sights set on making a record," Harper said. " ‘White Lies for Dark Times' " made us a band. This is the first record we've made as a band, with a great deal of experience under our belt. I'm really confident about it."

To give the songs on the new album a different texture, Harper and Co. all set up in one of Groove Masters' big rooms and recorded most of the songs live. A few of them were knocked out on the first take, Harper said.

"It's a band in a room playing for each other," Harper said. "There are themes about love, life, loss, coming to grips with the way the world's never going to be, and the way the world is."

Harper is vague about how much of his songwriting is autobiographical and how much is fiction. He casually tosses out numbers like "40/60" or "30/70," and even when pressed to explain them, dodges the question.

"It's not up to me to tell you which one's which," he said. "Hopefully, it's 30 percent me and 70 percent the listener."

So far, Harper and the Relentless7 have only played a couple of the new songs live — "Rock ‘n' Roll is Free" and "I Will Not Be Broken." Harper likes to keep most of his new music close to the vest until the album is released. As the name implies, the album has a positive feel — more upbeat than his last one.

"It feels good," he said.

Growing up in Claremont, Calif., Harper was submerged in a world of music. Harper's maternal grandparents ran a record store, called the Folk Music Center and Museum, and his father took him to see Bob Marley and Peter Tosh in Los Angeles in 1979. Harper still remembers buying his first NWA tape out of the trunk of someone's car.

Harper's first real performance was part of a songwriter series at a spot called the Starvation Café around 1991. It's not hard for Harper to remember being an unknown performer with grand plans.

"You always dream, and you dream as far and wide as you can, and hopfully you're disciplined enough and hopefully it's in your cards to fulfill that," he said.

Almost two decades later, Harper said he couldn't have asked for things to turn out better. His albums have been met with critical and commerical success, both at home and overseas, and his music is as relevant as ever.

"There's nothing I would change," he said. "I'm super-happy where I am."

If you go
Ben Harper and the Relentless7 performs April 20 at Pier Six Pavilion, 731 Eastern Ave. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $42.50. Call 410-244-1131 or go to

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