Like many talented musicians, Ben Harper likes to collaborate. He’s worked with Ringo Starr, Jackson Browne and Taj Mahal.
But his most recent collaboration isn’t typical for a rock star: Harper teamed with his mother, Ellen Harper, a gifted songwriter and capable singer, to release an album called “Childhood Home.”
Listening to the album reveals mutual respect and appreciation between mother and son.
Ben wrote six of the tracks; Ellen wrote four, which range from the singer-songwriter folk of “A House is a Home” to the hillbilly bluegrass of “Farmer’s Daughter,” which laments that the farm “all belongs to Monsanto.”
“It’s produced like early Elvis,” Ben Harper told Rolling Stone. “Not one thing is plugged in. It’s all acoustic. I think they’re going to call it Americana, but it’s soul, California, folk rock.”
Ben Harper performs a solo acoustic show on Sept. 13 at the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University. Harper was on vacation throughout August and not available for an interview.
Known for his plaintive voice and remarkable range, Harper leaps from gospel to guitar-heavy rock without missing a beat.
Before he was born, his maternal grandparents had opened The Folk Music Center and museum in Claremont (about an hour’s drive east of L.A.), a musical instrument shop that remains open to this day.
Harper’s parents encouraged young Ben to try out the guitars, banjos and ukuleles in the store during his childhood in the 1970s. He learned how to repair some of the instruments, according to a Los Angeles Times story published last June.
Renowned musicians such as Leonard Cohen and up-and-coming talent including David Lindley and Ry Cooder would stop by, Harper says on his website, and “provided master classes in creativity and philosophy.”