For the first time in nine years, Ben Harper has released a new album with The Innocent Criminals. The album titled, Call It What It Is, offers Harper’s pointed commentary on glaring social issues as well as personal songs about friendships and resilience. The album features the reggae, blues, rock, and folk sounds synonymous with Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, and of COURSE you are treated to Ben Harper’s sick slide guitar skills.
The title track deals with an extremely heavy topic and begins with the lyric, “They shot him in the back/Now it’s a crime to be black.” The song references the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford, and Michael Brown and Harper sings, “call it what it is…. murder”. When asked about what brought about those lyrics, Harper replied, “there was a consistent collective dialogue – to the point where I just blurted it out, ‘Why don’t they stop pretending it’s not murder?’ I wish we’d just call it what it is. So I just went home and wrote the song.”
The video for “Call it What It Is” features renowned graffiti artist and good friend to Harper, Andy Dolan.
Harper is no stranger to political and social issues. Harper shares, “It’s been a part of my family upbringing. I do come by that honestly. My family was always politically active, socially active. It was part of my everyday conversation, what went on at my house every day. Not necessarily with friends: We were allowed to be kids. But dinner-table conversation, in the home, with my parents’ friends, and my grandparents…”
Growing up in Claremont greatly influenced the musician Ben Harper is today, and he understood at an early age the power dialogue can have in a community. “My family has a music store in Claremont called the Claremont Folk Music Center, and it’s not only for folk music; it’s the center for a good deal of activism and social awareness and dialogue and conversation. It’s amazing how much progressive activity starts out of that kind of dialogue.”
In addition to the dialogue on death and racial policing, Harper also includes songs inspired by his friendships, over coming tough times, and even a little touch of whimsy. One of my favorite songs on the album is “ Pink Balloon”. The song was co-written by Harper’s wife, Jaclyn, and features the lyrics “she don’t worry about danger/ she don’t worry about doom/and she don’t give a damn what you think/about her pink balloon”.
“The record’s like a book,” says Harper, “It’s the closest I’ve ever come to being an author. I drove my band insane with sequencing, because the titles tell a story.”
For those who have been waiting nine long years for this day, this album does not disappoint. With insanely powerful lyrics and incredibly catchy tunes, any Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminal fan would be proud to make this album a part of their collection.