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Review: "No Mercy In This Land" - Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite

by Chris Wheatley,

Five years on from their first critically-acclaimed collaboration, 2013’s Get Up!, singer-songwriter blues-man Ben Harper and harmonica-great Charlie Musselwhite return for another much-anticipated inter-generational meeting.
No Mercy In This Land kicks off in strong form with the almost biblical ‘When I Go’, which could almost pass for a leftover track from a Led Zeppelin session. Harper’s voice, like Robert Plant’s, is uniquely suited to the blues, and here he is in fine form throughout. ‘Bad Habits’ keeps up the pace with jazzed-up drums and some nicely spiky guitar, ‘When a man gives you his hat, he’s living on borrowed time,’ sings Harper, a pleasingly ambiguous lyric.

We can’t go much further, of course, without commenting on Musselwhite’s playing. Surely the star of this show, his harmonica edges, pushes, jumps, drives and snarls without ever over-powering the mix. Musselwhite is a living legend and rightly so and his musicianship crackles like lightning.

Gospel, unsurprisingly, runs throughout, ‘Love And Trust’ being a prime example. This earthy connection is what the blues is all about. ‘The Bottle Wins Again’ swaggers wonderfully over a Bo Diddley-esque jangling rhythm, while ‘Found The One’ rolls like a rackety freight-train before the album takes a unexpected down-tempo turn into ‘When Love Is Not Enough’. Before long though, we’re back into classic blues territory with ‘Trust You To Dig My Grave’. The title track is suitably gravelly and portentous and the package rounds out with a lovely blast of Musselwhite on the up-tempo ‘Moving On’ and late-night-ballad that is ‘Nothing At All.’

This is an album that is classy from start to finish. If one were to be hyper-critical (and that’s my job) one might lament that the production is a little over-polished, robbing the music of a some grit, and not quite every cut is of diamond quality. Nevertheless, we should count ourselves fortunate that such music is still be released in this age of easily-digested homogeneous pop. ‘There’s A Price We Pay For Putting In On The Line,’ Harper aptly laments on the closing track. Recommended.