At the end of a nine month European tour, Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals landed in a Paris recording studio and completed their new album, Lifeline, in just seven days. The result: a soulful masterpiece with beautifully direct lyrics, undeniable grooves and an effortless energy that recalls the best works of Otis Redding, Bill Withers and Beggars Banquet-era Rolling Stones. Yeah...it's that good.
It's no surprise that most bands today don't record albums live, straight to tape, in one room, no Pro Tools, no auto-tune. There are only a handful of modern artists that can pull it off. Since Ben & The Innocent Criminals were so musically connected after such a long tour, they entered the studio immediately. And on a sixteen track tape machine and one full week in the City of Lights, they successfully recorded and mixed an album that will sit alongside all of your old favorites...just like a classic record should.
Eight albums in just over a dozen years: validation that Ben Harper--mind or body--rarely rests, be it on the road with backing jam band the Innocent Criminals or buried in a studio, where the gifted singer-songwriter lays down his brand of peace-chanting, love-tilting music. His latest is lighter on the rock, with a greater emphasis on gospel, blues, and deeply burning soul. Harper isn't concerned about letting listeners inside that soul, confessing in the title track, "I don't want to wait a lifetime/Yours or mine." The solo acoustic closer is classic wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve, a trait that seems to drift in and out of songs like the ominous ballad "Younger than Today," which remembers earlier days being better days, or its mood-opposite "Say You Will," where the exultance of a flamboyant piano and gospel backing vocals offset cheesy lines such as "love you like a candle loves a flame." The latter is a standout, along with the bluesy opener "Fight Outta You"; the island-splashed "In the Colors," which recalls early-'70s Van Morrison; and "Put It on Me," with its brilliant lyric, "She cuts cherry pie when she looks you in the eye." All eyes, as his legion builds, are on Ben Harper. All ears, too. --Scott Holte
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