November 2007

Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals - Lifeline
Virgin Records 0946 3 93385
Released: 2007

by Shannon Holliday

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

It’s back to basics for Ben Harper and his band, The Innocent Criminals, with the release of their latest disc, which was recorded and mastered in Paris in one week’s time. The group approached this project with the simplified goal of no digital enhancements whatsoever, recording straight to 16-track analog. Harper’s harmonic vocals and the easy grooves of straightforward folk rock give the disc a warm sound and pleasing intimacy, well suited for the songs' repeat subjects of heartbreak, distrust and falsity.

Lifeline gives Harper a chance to do what he does best: sing a simple song. A balance of blues, folk, soul and gospel make up the 11 songs. "Fool for a Lonesome Train" is reminiscent of Neil Young, thanks to a crisp harmonica intro and a slow, bluesy tempo. "Put it on Me" picks up the pace with an almost Otis Redding-like soul sound, featuring jamming piano and guitar solos. All the while, Harper proves why he’s earned his stars, scaling the vocal range effortlessly while playing with tonality and inflection.

This disc is a near classic, not only because it rises to the challenge of pure recording practices, but also because, in the process, the band members reaffirm their ability to explore multiple genres with originality. Lifeline is exactly that for Harper and his Innocents: a tether to their roots and reaffirmation of the shared purpose of creating great music.