Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals

[Virgin Records US]

Waiflike tones slide into your consciousness … the same old words drift across your screen of meaning … but then they bend and carry you into Ben Harper’s vision of lives unfolding in a sheltered “subjectivity” … which may, in the end, turn out to be more objective than the so-called real world.

The first track (“Fight Out Of You”) is a sort of prologue, a dedication to the album’s ten solid songs – “don’t let ’em take the fight out of you” – that states what becomes obvious: as mellow as Ben is, he’s solid and unyielding at the core. Being soulful and sensitive and all of that does not negate an essential ferocity, and Harper has it.

There’s a good bit of Dylan in the lyrical direction here, not to mention the spare atmosphere conjured by the economical ergonomics of voodoo slaps right out of the Rolling Stones, too. Of course, Van Morrison, Neil Young, and Bob Marley are influences too, but that’s all stylistically derivative stuff. The essence of Ben Harper, to me, is his positioning between the hammer and the anvil of our times. In this sense, Lifeline defines a ragged vein: relationships unravel predictably in the crucible cum pressure-cooker of early 21st-century living. The sound is fine, the meaning is immortal within the limits of humanity … as the plaintive strains of “reaching for the lifeline” cut to the crux: “And it’s hardest to listen to what we already should know …”

The 11 songs on Lifeline were recorded ‘live’ in a Paris studio. The band is Michael Ward (guitar), Juan Nelson (bass), Jason Yates (keyboards), Oliver Charles (drums), and Leon Mobley (percussion). This is singer-guitarist-songwriter-surfer Harper's eighth studio album.

Words DK