Rhythm & Views

Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals

Since coming onto the scene in the mid-'90s, Ben Harper has been a critics' darling. Much of this is owed to the sincere acknowledgement of the folk-blues roots that forms the cornerstone of his sound. Of course, playing and kicking ass with the likes of the Dave Matthews Band will raise your credibility a notch, too.

Harper's plaudits are deserved and should see little abatement with the release of Lifeline, his eighth studio release. Recorded in Paris on analog in only seven days, Lifeline works the soulful side of the Harper oeuvre. This rapid gestation period lends a spontaneous atmosphere that complements the rollicking, bar-blues sound that colors these 11 sides.

Several influences can be heard, including Van Morrison, Neil Young, the Neville Brothers, Dylan and even a touch of Elton John from his Tumbleweed Connection days. While these influences are pervasive, Harper still makes the songs his own.

Some of the most intriguing cuts are departures from Harper's blues-revival sound. The anthemic ballad "Younger Than Today" makes a simple though powerful statement on time's passing. "Paris Sunrise #7" is a tasty instrumental with airy, sitar-like tones. The last cut, "Lifeline," is a delicate paean to living in the moment.

A few of the cuts that come out of Harper's bailiwick feel as though they could have been outtakes from the film The Commitments. When your creative soul lies in the traditional heart of the blues-folk idiom, it's hard to come up with something truly original. Lifeline doesn't scale Sisyphus, but it proves Harper hasn't slowed his climb.