Fistful of Mercy, the new band consisting of Dhani Harrison (George’s son), Grammy-winning pop star Ben Harper and singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur, is coming to The Showbox in Seattle November 9th. The show sold out quickly, but to compensate, I did pre-order the CD and received a signed poster! I’m still hoping more tickets are released before the show date. Listening to their debut album, As I Call You Down, I realized, as a Beatlemaniac, it was going to be impossible to write an objective review. The songs and harmonies of Dhani, Ben and Joseph sound so similar to some of my favorite Beatles tunes. Their voices flow and blend together so naturally. The harmonies are not crisp, but relaxed, untidy (perhaps Beatlesque?), and feature R&B overtones. George Harrison was my favorite Beatle, and Dhani Harrison is without a doubt his father’s son. Dhani’s clear, high voice emulates George’s, just as he did on Georges’ posthumously produced album Brainwashed. Even the pictures of Dhani on the album’s cover and liner notes made me do a double-take, forgetting for a split second that these are pictures of the son, not the father.
The boys keep things simple with accompanying instruments stripped down to the bare essentials: all three on acoustic guitar, Dhani and Joseph on bass and keys, and subdued drum beats performed by Jim Keltner. The occasional stringed instrument shows up throughout the album, including Jessy Greene’s violin, and stand-up bass played by Sheldon Gomberg on the eponymous track. The musicians’ soulful voices shine through the instrumentation, with the exception of “30 Bones,” being a romantic instrumental number.
The album has a somber, melancholy tone, and a slow tempo throughout, with songs of lost love, sin, redemption, restoration, and love found again. The first song, “In Vain or True” shows off Fistful’s Beatlesque harmonies, which slowly crescendo and slide back down again. “Father’s Son” is a playful, bluesy revival tune of low-down dirty sin, and I can’t help but clap along and smile whenever I hear it. George is reincarnated through his son as he starts the song: “My father, he done told me / To never ever hurt no one / But now I’m sick and mad and I’ve been caught red handed / Hell, I’m still my father’s son.” Mid-way through the song is my favorite verse, and a nod to The Beatles: “Well I sleep with one eye open / I weep with both eyes closed / Time is coming down on me / And tomorrow never knows.”
Most of the pictures of Fistful of Mercy, like the album’s songs, are dark and somber. Several are images of them intently working in the studio, with looks of hard concentration on their faces. Two of the pictures, though, are candid color shots of them with smiling eyes, mouths open with laughter, taken somewhere away from the studio. Work and play, work and play…I would have preferred more play.