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Harper’s album a lifesaver for music fans everywhere

Chris McGrady | Monday, September 3, 2007

Ben Harper is undeniably one of the premier musical talents in the modern popular scene. His skills resonate through every high and low of his grainy tenor voice, jump down the strings of his signature Weissenborn guitar, and settle softly, but strikingly, on the ears of his listeners.

Ben Harper was born in Claremont, Calif., and has been playing the guitar since he was a child. He released his first LP, “Pleasure and Pain,” as a joint effort with folk guitarist Tom Freund. “Fight For Your Mind,” released in 1995, became a college radio favorite and established Harper’s position in the music scene. Collectively, Harper has released 11 albums and has climbed as high as No. 7 on the Billboard Music 200. Perhaps Harper’s most well-known track is “Steal My Kisses,” from his 1999 album “Burn To Shine.”

In Harper’s most recent effort, “Lifeline,” collaboration with his band The Innocent Criminals, Harper tosses a life preserver to the average listener drowning in the sea of musical homogeneity.

The album, released by Virgin Records America, was recorded in seven days in Paris. Perhaps more impressively, the album went straight from the instruments to analog tape, sans digital enhancement. For some musicians, this would be a sure recipe for disaster. With Harper, however, the transition works perfectly in his favor.

His soulful voice, with surprising range, never falters, and his bandmates – guitarist Jason Yates, drummer Oliver Charles, bassist Juan Nelson, keyboard player Leon Mobley and percussionist Leon Mobley – provide stellar backup. The album has the gritty feel of a live performance, but with the audio quality of a studio recording.

It’s the best of both worlds.

The album opens with the addictive track “Fight Outta You,” one of the Harper-esque signature tracks that borders on being an anthem. Harper’s lyrical prowess shines through, urging listeners “to not let them take the fight out of you.”

“Needed You Tonight” is a tribute to legends of the past, with the type of soulful, R&B sound that has come to be expected from Harper. The song showcases Harper’s moving voice.

The sixth track, “Say You Will,” sounds like the echoes of a Sunday church service, and will have the listeners tapping their toes to the beat. Followed by the morose “Younger Than Today,” Harper’s well-known falsetto makes an appearance for one of the more stirring tracks on the album.

The beauty of the album lies in its diversity and the musical honesty that drips from every song. Every lyric is genuine and full of emotion, the guitar chords echo with meaning, and the bass line moves forward with confidence.

Perhaps the most impressive song on the album is the instrumental “Paris Sunrise #7,” where Harper’s signature slide guitar plays beautifully. The track even “sounds” like a sunrise – progressing forward more quickly until the activity of daybreak is portrayed in the pace of the song.

The album is a striking success, particularly in the modern music landscape. The genuine nature of the album is a breath of fresh air in a stale music scene, and “Lifeline” proves to be a complete success.