Ben Harper has unveiled his new album Winter Is For Lovers, and in many ways his entire musical life has culminated in this moment. The solo recording, which features just Harper and his Monteleone lap steel guitar, is a 15-song work of original instrumental compositions imagined as a symphony. Harper has pushed musical boundaries since his 1994 debut and his lap steel guitar has played a tremendous role in his distinct sound throughout his career. But he’s never made an album that so purely distills his reverence for the instrument, and his mastery of it.
Meditative and affecting, the music featured on Winter Is For Lovers is deeply ingrained in Harper’s DNA and leads directly back to The Folk Music Store, the influential California instrument shop his grandparents opened in the 1950s. The store hosted luminaries of all stripes, including Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, the Rev. Gary Davis, Doc Watson and John Fahey. While Harper worked in the shop throughout his childhood, he met and even strung guitars for iconic players like Ry Cooder, Leonard Cohen, Taj Mahal, David Lindley and Jackson Browne.
Winter Is For Lovers philosophically explores the American Primitive movement pioneered by Leo Kottke and the aforementioned John Fahey. It swirls with the music Harper heard growing up, listening to the blues, Hawaiian and classical guitar masters in his mother’s record collection. He gravitated early on to the distinct wail of the slide guitar, learning finger picking from slide master Taj Mahal and later studying with Chris Darrow of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - a lap steel virtuoso who had a major influence on Harper’s lifelong embrace of the instrument.
While Harper was composing parts of the album he was also reading Infinite Jest, and Winter is deeply influenced by the book’s unique narrative structure. As Harper learned that author David Foster Wallace fused together a series of short stories to create a bigger narrative, he saw a similar potential with the pieces that would become Winter Is For Lovers, melding together a series of works named after, and inspired by, locations across the globe that hold a special place in his heart.
This is my first entirely instrumental album. It is stark, bare bones, just me and my lap steel guitar. It is purposefully produced to sound intimate and spare, as if I am playing in your living room. Upon first listen it may be surprising or catch some people off guard because it is dramatically stripped-down in contrast to a lot of what we hear today.
I am a big fan of flamenco, classical, Hawaiian and blues guitar, and I hope these influences are all somehow represented within Winter Is For Lovers.
I have been composing this record for most of my adult life, and the challenge this record presented to me was completely new. To record an entire album with one guitar and no words, where every single nuance was under a microscope, was more demanding than any record I have made to date, and also more rewarding