One cannot simply classify the raw appeal of Ben Harper. He is a musician, an artist, and an individualist. Whether it's through the soul dances of southern Gospel, 70s funk or electric blues, Harper maintains a stance for a simple beauty.
For nearly ten years, Harper and his trademark Weissenborn guitar have been a saving grace in the capriciousness of corporate rock & roll. He never signed on to be a savior, but his modest approach in writing music takes on a life of its own. He's an explosive, energetic live performer. He's a flawless studio hound who's self-absorbed in each song.
Harper has been on television and radio but has become a star because of the people –word of mouth has spread his music around the globe. The grassroots way of doing this rock thing has worked quite well for him and that's why Harper does what he does. He makes music for the people, people who are aware of the world's greater goals and unimpressed by political mediocrity. Harper knows he can make a difference with his music, but his fans carry him along so the message can be heard. Starting in 1994, Harper has made four studio records: Welcome to the Cruel World (1994); Fight For Your Mind (1995); The Will to Live (1997); Burn to Shine (1999); and one live album Live From Mars (2001). Diamonds on the Inside is Harper's sixth chapter in his continuing testimonial.
His fifth studio effort is heavy, funk-laden with folky textures that have never sounded better. But at its core is a songwriter of uncommon sincerity. What's made him an international favorite all these years is his talent to compose the good, the bad and the ugly of a spiritual inquisition. Alongside him are The Innocent Criminals – bassist Juan Nelson, percussionist Leon Lewis Mobley and drummer Oliver Charles – the four-piece derives a charismatic, emotional set of songs that are Harper's most comprehensive to date.
"With My Own Two Hands" is a feel-good groove with hints of Marley-esque reggae. Harper fights the good fight with a sharp falsetto and accompanying him is keyboardist Greg Kurstin (Geggy Tah, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flaming Lips, Beck). Kurstin and Harper are a tight pair throughout Diamonds on the Inside and together, they showcase an alluring musical palate.
Seeking the wisdom of a higher power is constant in Harper's music and undoubtedly quite thematic throughout the new album. Handcrafted acoustics soar around Harper's holy thoughts in "Amen Omen," asking, "Will I see your face again?" He moves towards worldbeat chimes of Africa for "Picture of Jesus. The famous Ladysmith Black Mambazo ten-man choir joins Harper on this near six-minute hymn.
"Touch From Your Lust" is a hazy dreamscape; Harper's sultry side writhes between searing guitar riffs and pulsating bass lines. He's lyrically haunting and it's a stunning rock moment, making "Touch From Your Lust" a classic. "Bring the Funk" bridges on Harper's signature funk vibe he and Nelson create while the title track and "When She Believes" lay low with wispy vocal edges. "Diamonds on the Inside," in particular, hits an inner cord – Harper transforms that self-doubting thread inside all of us on this country-rock nugget and he's poetically sweet in doing so.
Ben Harper is a road hound. He typically plays 150 shows a year and records material during bus rides and sound checks. This time around, Harper took a rest. His body and mind needed time to rejuvenate. He wanted to make an album without the demands of being on tour. Diamonds on the Inside is a testament to his will and patience. It will quench the thirst of devotees and convert those tasting Harper's brew for the first time.