08.26.10 Meet Fistful of Mercy: Harper, Arthur and Harrison (Rolling Stone Article)

by kevin


Meet Fistful of Mercy: Harper, Arthur and Harrison

By Austin Scaggs
Aug 26, 2010 12:02 PM EDT

In February, when Ben Harper, Joseph Arthur and Dhani Harrison arrived at the Carriage House studio in Los Angeles’ Silverlake neighborhood, they had three days booked and zero songs to record. “I thought I was going there to add some guitars or harmonies on Joseph’s album,” says Harrison, who was invited to the session by Harper, whom he befriended at a skate park in Santa Monica. “When I got to the studio, I saw Joe and asked, ‘What songs are we going to do?’ He said we hadn’t written them yet.” After three long days, the trio had recorded the nine acoustic tracks that make up As I Call You Down — and called themselves Fistful of Mercy, after the track of the same name. “I never thought we’d pull off an entire album, [I thought] maybe we’d get an EP,” says Harper, who credits Arthur as the catalyst who pushed for three songs a day. “The three of us were able to create something we never could have done on our own.”

With three acoustic guitars and three microphones, the team worked out musical arrangements, and then retreated to different corners of the studio to write. “We were each others’ lyric police,” says Arthur. ( “It was very ‘Wilbury’ style,” says Harrison, whose late father George was a member of the Travelin’ Wilburys.) Many times, Harrison threw out lyrical themes for inspiration. “Things Go ‘Round” is a throwback to John Lennon’s “Instant Karma,” imagining a world where people are immediately accountable for their actions. When Harrison called for a blues number, the trio quickly drafted “My Father’s Son.” Says Arthur: “It’s really about the three of our voices, and the harmonies. We’re basically singing together the whole time.”

With nine acoustic and vocal tracks completed, Harrison was determined to ratchet the music up to another level. He instinctively called the legendary session drummer Jim Keltner, an old family friend. “I’d never done anything that I thought was worthy of calling Jim,” says Harrison. “We had an emotional conversation on the phone, and he heard some of the stuff we’d done, and he said he’d do it.” Keltner overdubbed percussion, Arthur added bass, and Harper (who calls Keltner the “Dalai Lama of the drums”) added some slide guitar. “These guys are so talented,” says Harrison of his bandmates, who will all hit the road together in October. “I can’t believe I get to call them my musical brothers.”


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The L.A. Times music blog


L.A. supergroup alert: Ben Harper, Joseph Arthur and Dhani Harrison debut Fistful of Mercy on KCRW

Fistful of Mercy is a new band with an intriguing pedigree, embodied by a trio of distinctive singer-songwriters: Ben Harper, Joseph Arthur and Dhani Harrison. From the first moments of the band's debut performance Tuesday night at The Village studios in West Los Angeles, the sound could be unruly or tranquil, unveiling a modern, quirkier take on the Crosby, Stills and Nash model, colliding folk, blues, eccentric pop and gorgeous three-part vocal harmonies.

The eight-song performance for about 100 invited guests was hosted by KCRW, which is broadcasting the concert at 11:15 a.m. Thursday on “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” previewing material from the trio's new album, “As I Call You Down,” set for an Oct. 5 release on Harrison's Hot Records West label. The songs were agonized and joyous, impulsive and restrained, exploring themes that Harrison listed as “love, God . . . music, peace.”

During much of the set, the trio sat with acoustic guitars, strumming jangly steel strings, with elegant slices of violin from Jessy Greene, who also appears on the album. Harrison moved to piano for the album's title song, as he, Harper and Arthur sang in warm harmony: “When I fall inside a hole I can't crawl out of / better give up my control as I call you down.”

The group then dove into some tough, agonized blues with “Father's Son,” a song inspired by Robert Petway's ancient “Catfish Blues,” harmonizing as Harper sliced away on an acoustic Weissenborn lap-slide guitar.

For the moment, Fistful of Mercy has yet to announce any tour plans, and remains a compelling side trip for the three artists: Harper already has another album completed with his band Relentless7, and Harrison's group thenewno2 just performed at this summer's Lollapalooza fest. Arthur is a post-modern folk-rocker who has known Harper for years, and they often spoke of collaborating one day; and Harper met Harrison only recently by chance at a local skate park. The new band wrote and recorded its debut suddenly over three long days.

They were joined in the studio by the acclaimed rock drummer Jim Keltner, who has performed with a long list of classic rock artists, including Harrison's father, the late Beatle George Harrison. “I haven't seen him since my old man was around,” the younger Harrison said between songs, “so it was heavy sessions.”

During the final minutes of Tuesday's show, there was a Beatles-like pop swirl on “Things Go 'Round” and a raw, cascading pattern to the instrumental “30 Bones.” Harper ripped and slashed on electric lap-slide for “Restore Me,” unfurling a tense, shimmering sound of melody and feedback, blending into the cooing of their voices: “You want it all, but you got to forgive. . . .”

The night closed with the urgent jangle of “With Whom You Belong,” and sounded the most like classic Crosby, Stills and Nash as they harmonized on words that could easily describe the roots of this new trio: “You find your way, to write your song / and come what may, I hope you find friends with whom you belong.”

Set list:

“In Vain or True”
“As I Call You Down”
“Father's Son”
“Fistful of Mercy”
“30 Bones”
“Restore Me”
“Things Go 'Round”
“With Whom You Belong”

A recording of the performance is streaming at KCRW.com.

-- Steve Appleford