The Will to Live (Revisited)/My First Ben Harper Album

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The Will to Live (Revisited)/My First Ben Harper Album

Post  MCTolen on Thu Apr 21, 2011 1:03 pm

Funny story....The Will to Live was the first Ben Harper album I bought back in 1998...and I TRADED IT for CD's that I can't even recall!! (or possibly for beer money) Hard to imagine now huh?! So, admittedly, I was not a big fan at first. Let me explain, I heard "Glory & Consequence" on the local college radio station and really dug it. So much so I bought it without knowing any other songs or anything else about Ben Harper. In 1998, Dave Matthews Band was peaking and pretty much ruled the college jam band scene. I was into Dave Matthews band and Ben Harper seemed to exude in Glory & Consequence a similar laid back and jam friendly sound. So when I bought The Will to Live, needles to say it was NOT like Dave Matthews and was far from what I expected. I liked "Faded" and the title track was OK, but the rest was lost on me. Apparently at that time, I just "didn't get it." I wasn't sure what to make of Ben and asked myself...What's up with the big 'fro on the cover? What's with the creepy picture of dead animals in the booklet? And the obvious questions...Why doesn't he just stick to rock songs? Are some of these gospel songs? (I don't do gospel) What is Jah Work? Anyway, I was always into a lot of different music all more or less under the pantheon of "College Rock" but I just wasn't ready to listen that much outside the box yet.
I was still intrigued with Ben Harper despite only liking a couple of songs. I even made a point to try to catch his set at HORDE festival that summer. I was there with friends to see bands other than Ben Harper, but I told them I really wanted to catch this Ben Harper guy mainly because I just wanted to hear Glory & Consequence. I didn't know when or what stage he was playing on (not a headliner at the time). As soon as we got into the festival I heard the opening chords of Glory & Consequence. I was like "that's him!" and I hurried to the stage he was playing. I remember the next song he played was "Faded" and I was really impressed by how good it sounded. We were quite a ways back from the stage and Ben stayed seated the entire time with guitars being handed directly to him. I had NEVER seen anyone seated like that playing guitar for an entire set. In fact, it was so foreign to me and my friends that we could only reach one conclusion...he must be CRIPPLED!! Ha Ha, can you believe that?! Seriously, we got there late enough to not see him come out and NOBODY I knew in rock music played entire shows just sitting there!! (Thinking about it now, I must have bought the album after the show, since I would have seen inside the cover Ben standing) Needless to say, when the set was over and he casually stood up and waved and walked off, we thought it was a miracle!! (and felt really stupid)
Anyway, long story longer, after awhile I kinda moved on from Will to Live and sometime when in need of money, new CD's or both due to living on student loans for grad school, I went to the local music store and traded in The Will to Live along with several other CD's. Luckily when I originally bought Will to Live it came with the Live EP that was a limited edition that you couldn't get otherwise until it was recently added to iTunes. I was smart enough to keep the EP which I grew to really like because I liked the live versions of those songs better anyway. It was a couple years later before I crossed paths with Ben's music again when the roomate of a girl I was seeing was a Ben Harper fan and was playing some tunes off Welcome to the Cruel World and Fight for Your Mind. A couple of those songs really caught my ear and I wanted them. Of course if iTunes existed then I would have just bought those songs and probably never given the other songs the time of day. Thank goodness I was forced to buy both albums. Suddenly...I was hooked. By no means did I like all Ben's songs at first but I couldn't stop listening. I was so intrigued and felt compelled to keep listening and with each listen I'd find something new I liked about other songs. Before long I was officially a fan. Needless to say, I bought The Will to Live for the 2nd time (I resisted a while out of stubborness) and listened to it with new ears. The rest is history...

Sorry about that longer than expected sidenote, but it was a story I was wanting to share. Without further ado, here's my take NOW on The Will to Live (Released June 17, 1997)

1. Faded - What an awesome riff to kick off the album!! The guitar and drums sound INCREDIBLE! In a bit of an odd contrast however Ben's vocals remain at a whisper and are nearly drowned out by the music. His vocals at one point sound cracked and gravelly (or dare I say "Faded"). It's kinda cool, but also bugs me a bit. I really prefer the later live versions when he just RIPS the vocals. The other thing I never really liked was the slow acoustic guitar break on the studio version. Yeah, its kinda cool how it comes outta nowhere, but it just stops dead what is otherwise a kickass rock song and I'm always anxious to get through it. I like the live version on the EP better because it stays electric and is slow but sounds cool. Regardless, NOTHING compares to the Live From Mars version with the Whole Lotta Love jam in the middle...one of the best live song/covers I've ever heard...EVER!! (can't stress that enough)

2. Homeless Child - When I first heard this I liked the song, but HATED the sound of the recording. I couldn't get over it because I thought it would be such an awesome song if only it wasn't recorded "in mono" or however the hell the song was recorded. Of course, over time the sound became the coolest thing about this song. You could really believe it was recorded in some Great Depression Era dust bowl studio like in "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" but it also still somehow sounds contemporary at the same time. I REALLY love the song and the recording now, but a part of me is still curious to hear how it would sound live or "in Stereo."

3. Number 3 - A very nice instrumental, not my favorite of his instrumentals by far but very nice

4. Roses From My Friends - Despite how cool the backwards weissenborns sound at the beginning and the hard hitting drums that erupt in the chorus, I still like the acoustic version better!

5. Jah Work - It took quite a while for this song to grow on me. Partly because this midwest white boy didn't know what the heck "Jah" was. After some musical education on reggae and rasta, I now really like it a lot and the recording is so pristine that the guitar and percussion sound incredibile in surround sound.

6. I Want to Be Ready - I can safely say I never cared for this song until just now going back to revisit this album. It always sounded too dour for me, like some gospel led funeral procession. I'm still not sure about the whole message of the song, but what has won me over is the simple soulfulness and passion of Ben's vocals here in conjunction with the tight drum beat. Yet again, even now, I'm still discovering something new to love in Ben's music.

7. The Will to Live - I liked this song a lot early on because it was one of his few rockers at the time, but as Ben has added many other "rockers" since, its not a favorite of mine in comparison. I like how Ben makes the slide guitar rise and crescendo in the background like the temperature rising on a thermometer ready to blow the top. Still, the vocal delivery is kind of weak in comparison to the live version on the EP which is my go to version.

8. Ashes - Beautiful song. I've always thought it was beautiful, yet its still not a particular favorite of mine. I think the lyrics and style of it just sounds too simple and lacks much substance to make it a long time favorite of mine.

9. Widow of a Living Man - This one still has potential to grow on me, but for the time being I still haven't connected with it.

10. Glory & Consequence - One of my all time favorites!! As I mentioned above, its how I first came to hear Ben and I still love it. That opening guitar part is one of the coolest most unique sounding riffs in a song I've heard. I have to say that this is one of the few Ben Harper songs where I actually still like the studio version the best. The live version on Live from Mars is great and very energetic and electric, but I think its a bit overkill for this song. There's something more dynamic and subtle going on in the studio version that sounds better. The guitar guitar part sounds more acoustic and better. Anyone know why?? Is it a weissenborn in the studio and not on Live from Mars?? Anyway, this song will ALWAYS appear on any Ben Harper mix I put together.

11. Mama's Trippin' - Another bigtime grower. At first I couldn't get into it because it was waaaaaay to much of a 70's funk sound for my taste at the time. When I would hear it, all I could picture was it being the soundtrack to a car chase in a Starsky & Hutch episode or some other bad 70's cop show chasing the drug dealing pimp through the streets of San Francisco. Now I LOVE the funkiness!! More than anyone, Ben has expanded my pallet of music and I couldn't be more thankful!

12. I Shall Not Walk Alone - Very beautiful and inspirational song. Still, not one I listen to a whole lot due to my unshakeable resistance to songs with overt religious references (though Ben has helped open me to music in that department as well) If I was Catholic, it would probably be my #1 favorite Ben Harper song.

Overall, The Will to Live is actually not one of my favorite Ben Harper albums. It seems that longtime fans hold this one pretty high. Personally, there's a couple songs that are among my very favorites (Faded and Glory & Consequence). Several others are very good, but would fall more into the category of "2nd round draft picks." The Will to Live seems to be an album of two extremes...the rock songs are harder, but the folk songs are softer and there's not much in between. It's not as diverse as Fight for Your Mind and Ben's vocals still seem to come off a bit weak on many of these studio cuts. There's too much of the soft whisper being used at times when it calls for letting it rip like he does in later live versions and albums. I will say that lyrically it's one of his best written albums. It is a very good album, just not a personal favorite.



MCTolen

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Re: The Will to Live (Revisited)/My First Ben Harper Album

Post  Peter on Thu Apr 21, 2011 9:26 pm

Great story Smile and great comments! And defiantly not a bad album to be introduced by!
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Re: The Will to Live (Revisited)/My First Ben Harper Album

Post  MCTolen on Fri Apr 22, 2011 12:00 pm

Thanks Peter! Hey, you should head up the post for Burn to Shine. I believe you mentioned once that it was a pretty special album to you.

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Re: The Will to Live (Revisited)/My First Ben Harper Album

Post  Peter on Fri Apr 22, 2011 12:02 pm

Yea I might do that. I don't have any interesting stories like that though, just a personal favorite of mine Smile
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