An overdue follow-up to 2013’s Grammy Award-winning Get Up! sees Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite reunite, this time resulting in No Mercy In This Land. With nearly 50 albums between them, the collective credentials of this duo are really quite considerable; Ben Harper’s talents as a prolific singer-songwriter and gifted instrumentalist, have seen him scoop numerous awards throughout the last decade, while his partner in crime, the legendary harmonica player, Charlie Musselwhite is not only recognised as one of the premier performers of the 1960s blues revival, but was also (allegedly) the inspiration for Dan Aykroyd’s character in ‘Blues Brothers’.
On this recording, Harper and Musselwhite really seem in sync with one another, as the laid back, funky approach of Harper blends with the swampy harmonica wails of Musselwhite, making for a record of real blues with balls.
The first half of the album is mostly electric; opening with the Harper co-penned (almost ‘In the Pines’-esque) ‘When I Go’, followed by ‘Bad Habits’ and the particularly strong ‘Love and Trust’. With this track, the record see-saws between happiness and heartache; followed as such, by ‘The Bottle Wins Again’ then the lyrically quirky ‘Found the One’:
“I found hay in a stack of needles/Four-leaf clover in a mile of weeds/Understands my downs/Puts up with my needs/Of everybody under the sun/I found the one”.
Yet again, as side two begins, we see-saw back to the heartache, with the reflective ‘When Love is Not Enough’ , followed by the Delta blues-esque ‘Trust You To Dig My Grave’ and the title track, where Musselwhite adds his vocals for the only time on the record; his lack of vocal input elsewhere feeling like the album’s only noteworthy shortcoming. While the first half of the album starts with a ‘big’ sound, side-B has a much more mellow feel to it, save only for ‘Movin’ On’, where the electricity kicks in again, before concluding on a more stripped back note with the appropriately titled ‘Nothing at All’.
It is not a particularly long album and the fact it is an enjoyable listen makes it feels even shorter again; and while it is a worthy sequel to the duo’s previous record, more importantly, it is a worthy record in its own right.
Christopher James Sheridan
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‘No Mercy In This Land’ – live: