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Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals - Lifeline

Released on Virgin Records, 8/28/07

A few years ago I had the good fortune to catch Ben Harper performing live at the Warfield in San Francisco. While I had heard great things about Ben, I had never listened to one of his albums or heard him perform live. His live performance was unquestionably one of the best I have ever experienced and the breadth and depth of his talent was readily apparent. Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminalís latest album, Lifeline is a powerful re-affirmation of Harper and the Innocent Criminalís talents.

Harper starts things off with the inspiring ballad, "Fight Outta You". Itís a spartan, but emotive track with Benís laid back vocals nicely complementing potent lyrics such as,"Thereís always someone younger, someone with more hunger, donít let them take the fight outta you." "Fight Outta You" is a breath of fresh air rife with optimism and perseverance. The track is a great start for Lifeline and all too appropriate for an album that has a tone that is markedly life affirming.

The sweetly romantic and intoxicating "In the Colors" inspires one to consider loving again despite broken hearts and disappointment. Benís smooth vocals (somewhat reminiscent of Barry White) meld perfectly with sultry guitar strumming and a simple piano melody. Itís a track that is perhaps best appreciated around dusk with a glass of wine and a fledgling romance.

A slightly less optimistic view of love and romance is reflected in the melancholy "Needed You Tonight". Benís pleading vocals fall on the seemingly deaf ears of his lover, "You know Iím waiting there for you. Iíd rather learn to live with you and suffer than to see you in the arms of another." Love isnít always sunshine and roses in "Needed You Tonight". Loveís more of a bittersweet pill in this track that Harper canít help swallowing.

Harper exorcises a few more love inspired demons in the wrenching; breakup inspired "Heart of Matters". "Iíve heard all of your parting lines, can only say goodbye so many times before you know you have nothing to show." Few things hurt more than the pain of a lover whose heart is no longer in it. Harper delves deep into this sensitive area with eloquence and passion.

The remaining tracks on Lifeline are for the most part well executed, eloquent, and heartfelt. Thereís an undeniable simplicity and authenticity to the eleven tracks Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals laid down for this latest effort. The fact that Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals produced an album of this quality after nine months of solid touring in Europe further underscores how talented these musicians are.

Virtually every track on Lifeline is a winner. The choice on Harperís part to forgo computers or pro-tools was excellent. There is something intensely earthy, passionate, and visceral about the tracks on Lifeline. The result is simply one of the best albums of the year.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars