Ben Harper Both Sides of the Gun

With 18 songs that last just over an hour long, Ben Harper’s first solo record in three years doesn’t really necessitate its double-album format. In Harper’s view, however, style supersedes substance and the soulful folk rocker followed his instincts in distinguishing his hard and soft sides between two discs. It’s too bad really because with a strict producer paring songs down, Both Sides of the Gun could make for a wonderfully cohesive record. As it stands, the upbeat a-side wins, with Harper creating timeless folk songs like the East-Indian tinged "Better Way” and the funked-out soul of the title track. On the incendiary "Black Rain,” Harper goes for the Bush administration’s throat for their treatment of hurricane Katrina’s victims, while he rides the waves of a blues jam on "Serve Your Soul.” There are excellent songs on side two as well, such as the lovely "Waiting for You” and the Bob Marley-inspired "Crying Won’t Help You Now,” both of which swell thanks to subtle instrumental accompaniment. Such songs could certainly co-exist peacefully with Harper’s rockers, as most of his best tunes are informed by eclectic instrumentation and varied arrangements. Even though Harper could’ve culled a worthwhile slew of b-sides from this tracks listed here, there is certainly a remarkable album’s worth of songs on Both Sides of the Gun. (Virgin)