Ben Harper may have just released a solo album two years ago, but this latest release is a lot longer in coming. Indeed, Call It What It Is marks his first album released with The Innocent Criminals following 2007’s Lifeline and a seven year long hiatus. In contrast to the roots-style soul of Lifeline or the Americana folk rock of 2014’s Childhood Home, Call It What It Is sets itself squarely in the world of blues music—rarely moving from a limited musical palette, but absolutely making the most of what they’re working with.
While folk rock reappears on tracks like Deeper and Deeper, those moments are few and far between. The sparse, introductory When Sex Was Dirty is a much more fitting picture of what’s to come, utilising sparse drums and ample cowbell with bursts of guitar underscoring the song throughout. The frantic percussion of How Dark Is Gone, somewhat at odds with its darker personal lyrical tone, melds into the sound perfectly with a touch of blues to it, and the more general blues cuts fill the album out nicely.
The album’s only real outlier, the reggae-infused Finding Our Way, acts as the sole major change of pace that attempts to spice up the album, and manages to blend into the album so perfectly that it barely feels different at all. This is easily the strongest thing about Call It What It Is; it doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, only working within its small pool of elements to create something refined, compelling, and in the true spirit of Blues music. It’s a simple album, placing its focus more on Harper’s lyricism than anything else, which in turn makes the production changes a better choice for the album than originally anticipated.
So while it’s not anything majorly new, it’s another enjoyable album from a veteran with thirteen albums in twenty two years. It’s a collection with barely a fault in its layout, which in turn makes the songs feel much stronger than they do alone. While Finding Our Way is the only song to really jump out of the pack, it isn’t that much of a negative in the grand scheme of things; even if it’s not a stellar album, Call It What It Is is a great example of strong blues rock from Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals.