It’s easy for lazy journalists to label Fistful of Mercy a “super-group” given that the members are Dhani Harrison, Joseph Arthur and Ben Harper. Yet, the charmingly modest design of these songs is far from the grandiosity implied by that term. Harrison’s legacy may be determined by his father, the “Quiet Beatle,” but he’s not the main star here. Rather, this collaboration comprises three equal musical parts, built on a foundation of spine-tingling harmonies and acoustic guitar. The upshot is a project with roots that run to early-Seventies folk-rockers Crosby, Stills & Nash and America. With legendary session drummer Jim Keltner keeping time and contributions from former Jayhawks/Geraldine Fibbers fiddler Jessy Greene, the trio retired to Harper’s home studio. There, band members banged out nine songs in three days.
It’s a loose-limbed affair that opens with the yearning of “In Vain or True,” and goes on to include the wailing soul of “30 Bones.” In the ethereal latter tune, piano intertwines with Greene’s gentle fiddle runs, and the guitar harmonics fall between Leo Kottke and John Fahey. Best of all is “Father’s Son,” a foot-stomping gospel-meets-blues hoedown punctuated by Harper’s slide-guitar riffs. The ghost of George Harrison appears in that one, resonating eerily in his son’s vocal phrasing. For all its charm, this debut isn’t some kind of musical equivalent to a Happy Days crossover episode. It’s a fun outing marinated in the genuine respect three musicians have for one another. (Hot Records)