Ben Harper and his mother Ellen have collaborated to create Childhood Home (Prestige Folklore), an absorbing, deeply personal collection of original songs set for release on May 6, 2014. Landing the week before Mother's Day, the ten songs on Childhood Home, six written by Ben and four written by Ellen, explore the intricacies of family life with honesty and generous intimacy.
The album's source can be directly traced to the pair's highly unusual, musical heritage. In 1958, Ben Harper's maternal grandparents established The Folk Music Center and Museum in Claremont, California. It was there, amid guitars, banjos, tablas, ukuleles and all manner of instruments from around the world, that a distinctively musical family took shape. Ellen Harper, a talented multi-instrumentalist in her own right, encouraged her family to use the store (which she still operates) as a musical laboratory. The center was a magnet for up-and-comers such as Ry Cooder, David Lindley and Taj Mahal, who became extended family members, providing master classes in creativity and philosophy, all of which the young Ben Harper soaked up like a sponge.
"I was a single mom, so he would come to the music store pretty much everyday after school, and help out while I was working. I think he just absorbed a lot of it," Ellen told a local paper. "It was in his environment, everywhere, because I used to play in bands, and he used to hang out with us all the time." "Without that upbringing, I don't think I'd be doing what I do," Ben told the LA Times upon his grandfather's passing in 2004.
The tender, artfully crafted story sketches on Childhood Home are laced with an undercurrent of love, wistfulness and, sometimes, pain. "A house is a home even when there's ghosts / Even when you gotta run from the ones who love you most," Ben sings on the album opener "A House Is A Home." On "Memories of Gold," truthfulness cuts through sweet nostalgia: "In the winter she wants to be dancer / In springtime she wants to be a scribe /In summer she wants to be a painter / Come autumn the mother of a child." Likewise, the sacrifice and despair of domestic life is devotedly delivered on Ellen Harper's "Altar of Love": "He always works late, determines his own fate / He's found his true match; he's found his soul mate / Sorry he says, sorry he feels / Can't help himself, he fell head over heels / And now she's another wife and a mother / Sacrificed on the alter of love."
Ben Harper produced Childhood Home "like early Elvis," he told Rolling Stone, after he and Charlie Musselwhite won the "Best Blues Album" GRAMMY Award for last year's critically acclaimed Get Up! (Stax/Concord). "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, American."
Addressing a hometown audience, Ben recently affirmed: "I've always figured home is where you run from, and then run to." Ben and Ellen Harper find the circle unbroken on Childhood Home.