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Both Sides of the Gun

Both Sides of the Gun

5.0 7
by Ben Harper

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Retro-minded funk-folk-rocker Ben Harper has always reveled in a split musical personality, but he's never done it with such clarity and confidence as on this sprawling set. For the benefit of folks who prefer to experience Harper's personas one at a time, Both Sides of the Gun is divided into separate acoustic and electric discs. The second disc contains most


Retro-minded funk-folk-rocker Ben Harper has always reveled in a split musical personality, but he's never done it with such clarity and confidence as on this sprawling set. For the benefit of folks who prefer to experience Harper's personas one at a time, Both Sides of the Gun is divided into separate acoustic and electric discs. The second disc contains most of Both Sides' most intriguing elements -- both in terms of the songwriting and the adventurous arrangements, which extend to sitars, vibraphones, and full-on string sections. Harper uses the thicker sound to up the emotional ante on some of the more serious tracks (the Hurricane Katrina paean "Black Rain," for instance, pits a moody orchestration against a psychedelic-soul backbeat reminiscent of late-'60s Motown) and to punch up the playfulness of winking interludes like the Stones-y "Please Don't Talk About Murder While I'm Eating." The acoustic set finds Harper in more familiar territory, unwinding plangent ballads with a deft blend of emotion and restraint. At times -- as on the hoary "Picture in a Frame" -- he doesn't quite get that balance right, but that's due more to his aptitude for turning on the melodic schmaltz than to anything else. When he settles into the folksy groove that he, along with contemporaries such as Jack Johnson, has mined so well over the years (see the New Morning-styled "Morning Yearning"), he makes it easy for the listener to come aboard for the long run. And that kind of friendliness is always welcome.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Marisa Brown
After seven albums and 12 years in the game, it can stop being said that Ben Harper is hard to categorize, because at this point, the fact that he always incorporates diverse elements -- from folk to hard rock to funk -- into his music and makes something very much his own is a given. He's practically created a genre. So maybe that's why it's so surprising that Both Sides of the Gun, a two-disc album, has little of that very thing that makes him so unique. Instead, he chooses to show off the range of his musical interests, and ends up with something closer to a compilation than a Ben Harper album. The softer, acoustically based disc is full of pretty love songs and sweetly strummed guitars, and though Harper has done this before and kept his own style intact (in "Two Hands of a Prayer" and "When She Believes," for example), here he comes off sounding a bit boring. He hasn't forgotten himself completely: both "Never Leave Lonely Alone" and "Crying Won't Help You Now" are good songs, sounding strongly of him while also experimenting with other styles (Latin/French and gospel, respectively), but almost all the other tracks could have been pulled off any run-of-the-mill singer/songwriter album from the past ten years. Things improve slightly on the other, louder, disc ("Please Don't Talk About Murder While I'm Eating" is all electric blues, complete with a distorted slide guitar solo, and "Serve Your Soul" is the most Harper-ish of everything, blending folk guitar, pure rock, raw blues, and socially conscious lyrics into one eight-minute masterpiece), but there's still that sampler-record feeling there. "Engraved Invitation" and "Get It Like You Like It" are heavily influenced by the Rolling Stones, "Both Sides of the Gun" alludes to Curtis Mayfield and James Brown, and "Better Way" is practically a tribute (at least musically) to Prince's "7." Harper has always borrowed from other artists, but he's also always added enough of himself to make it not quite so...blatant. It's not that he isn't able to perform such a diverse selection: there are plenty of excellent cuts and most of the album is quite good. Harper is a fantastically talented musician, and he has really developed his voice since Diamonds on the Inside and is unafraid to do things with it, going from a croon to a scream and always sounding great. But why he's copying other people's styles instead of building on his own is both odd and disappointing, because he's always been able to experiment before while also preserving his individuality. If in Both Sides of the Gun Harper is trying to show his audience what a wide variety of music he can cover, he certainly accomplishes that. But if he's trying to create an album that is really about him, he doesn't quite deliver. Ben Harper is in there, don't worry, but he can be a little hard to find.
Rolling Stone - James Hunter
He is, for all his flash, just Ben, a gifted singer, songwriter and guitarist bent on seeking transcendence in everyday places.

Product Details

Release Date:
Virgin Records Us


Album Credits

Performance Credits

Ben Harper   Primary Artist,Acoustic Guitar,Bass,Percussion,Drums,Bass Guitar,Keyboards,Vocals,Slide Guitar,Vibes,Weissenborn
Charlie Musselwhite   Background Vocals,Guest Appearance
David Lindley   Tamboura,Guest Appearance
Danny Kalb   Guitar
Greg Kurstin   Piano,Hammond Organ,Hammond B3
Leon Mobley   Percussion,Background Vocals
J.P. Plunier   Drums
Scott Thomas   Background Vocals
Michael Ward   Bass,Guitar,Background Vocals,12-string Guitar
Jason Yates   Keyboards,Background Vocals
Jose Medeles   Drums
Timothy Loo   Cello
Jan Ghazi   Electric Guitar,Background Vocals
Alyssa Park   Violin
Jesse Ingalls   Bass
Jason Mozersky   Guitar
Marc Ford   Guitar
David Palmer   Keyboards
Joel Pargman   Violin
Oliver Francis Charles   Drums,Background Vocals
Sue Chase   Background Vocals
Natasha Cockrell   Background Vocals
Matt Cory   Bass
Michelle Griepentrog   Background Vocals
Jennifer Ohrstrom   Background Vocals
Patrick Rosalez   Violin
Nick Sandro   Bass,Background Vocals
William Gus Seyffert   Bass
Jordan Richardson   Drums
Brett Banducci   Viola

Technical Credits

Ben Harper   Composer,Producer,Audio Production
Danny Kalb   Composer,Engineer
Leon Mobley   Composer
J.P. Plunier   Management
Michael Ward   Composer
Jason Yates   Composer
Todd Burke   Engineer
Juan Nelson   Composer
Oliver Charles   Composer

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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Both Sides of the Gun 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
OddArmyDad66 More than 1 year ago
This was a great purchase. I was completely unaware of Ben Harper until a day before. I heard one of his songs on youtube and rushed out to get this album. It it just so good of an album. Each song takes your soul on a journey.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I definitely preferred the second disc. I guess because the 1st side sounded more like Jack Johnson, whom I don't like too much, while the 2nd side sounded more like folk or reggae. It covered topics like activism and some songs were just plain funny like "Please Don't Talk About Murder While I'm Eating." Overall, I think this album covers a wide range of subjects. I also like the concepts of the double disc CD in general and Ben Harper delivered here. Even though I prefer one side over the other, the album as a whole is worth listening to definitely.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this is one of my favorite albums from Ben. I love how they separated the two CD's, with one CD having more mellow songs and the other CD having more upbeat songs. It captures any mood you're in. A few of my favorite songs are Morning Yearning, Never Leave Lonely Alone, Better Way, Gather Round the stone, and Black Rain. Definitely a project worth checking out!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Both Sides of the Gun is nothing short of amazing. I love that he offers two CDs with different vibes. He really covers all moods. While I love, love, love "Better Way", I have to admit that I'm partial to the more mellow disk but thats just because I'm a sucker for Ben's smooth lyrics and sexy voice!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The album is clearly divided into hard songs and soft songs (hence the need for 2 separate discs). Some have a very clear stand, like “Black Rain” which is a very political song, and some of the songs seem to be about life in general, but the whole album is very poignant nonetheless. After listening to the full album, it almost felt like a journey- a mixture of emotions- and Ben Harper was the storyteller. What I love most about the album is that you can sit down and really listen to his words, and they mean so much, are so fulfilling and worthwhile. Yet at the same time, I could just have the songs on as background music, and the melody and sounds of his guitar is really beautiful.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ben Harper delivers his finest performance yet. From opening to closing he keeps you intrested. His guitar is so stunning, this album is just flat out great!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Both Sides of the Gun exemplifies Ben Harper’s unique ability to effortlessly cross musical landscapes while creating songs that are both entertaining and intriguing. His double album provides listener’s with tracks that will fit any mood the listener may be in. The first disc is more somber and relies on Ben’s acoustic guitar to express its themes of love, both tragic and joyous. The first disc opens with “Morning Yearning” and has Harper’s delicate vocal glide through the background of beautiful strings, acoustic guitar, and piano. Another highlight is “Picture in a Frame”. In this song Harper pines for a lost love, but all he has is a picture to remember her by. The songs on the first disc seem deeply personal, yet universal. The disc has a more traditional singer/songwriter feel to it. On the other hand the second disc is a lively mix of spirited songs that range from folk, blues, funk, jazz, as well as some others that I’m sure I forgot to mention. The disc opens with the infectious single “Better Way” which incorporates an Indian sound to kick off the disc’s tapestry of styles. Immediately following the song is the 70’s funk inspired “Both Sides of the Gun”, which addresses the problems going on in Iraq. All of the songs in the second disc involve current events and the theme of a hectic lifestyle in the 21st century, which contrasts the timeless love songs of the first disc, but is equally enjoyable to listen to. In the fantastic “Don’t Talk about Murder While I’m Eating”, Harper implies that people who know everything going on in the world may not be aware of what is happening in their own lives and need to take a minute for some introspection. Both Sides of the Gun is a great accomplishment and shows that Ben Harper has become a versatile and complete artist. It’s a must have.