By: Sarah Moore
Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals' gentle funk, searing soul and acoustic pop are again collected into a cohesive, expressive album. Somehow female listeners tend to outnumber the male fans, perhaps due to Harper's sex appeal or his brand of sappy jam rock. In any case, his sensual swagger is back, hand drums included, on Lifeline (Virgin).
Recorded in a week in a Paris studio, Lifeline features only analog recording technology. None of that ProTools business here, which keeps his sound rootsy and accessible. Harper's compositions are pretty straightforward on his eighth studio release. He's found a formula that works for his sound, and he keeps going with it. Sometimes the simplest of ideas can be transformed into musical gold. The lyrics give off a generic vibe (example: "True happiness is having wings," from "Having Wings") alongside memorable but basic licks. Harper finds one trick or riff and then builds the rest of the song around it. For instance, "Put It On Me" uses its quick opening riff as the building blocks of the entire song. This is not to say that what Harper uses doesn't work; he quite fabulously packages all the expected ingredients down to the compact guitar solos.
Of course, the man has his share of soul. He can belt out his worries with the best of them. On "Needed You Tonight" (perhaps the highlight of the disc) he does his best impassioned lover's plea, a breathless, soulful expression followed by softened verses. "Paris Sunset #7," the only instrumental on the disc, begins with sporadic guitar phraseology, working its way into a full-sounding, minimally structured multi-guitar ballad. This is the most peaceful part of the record, the calm before and after the storm, leading up to the understated title track of the record.
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