Album Reviews

Ben Harper And The Innocent Criminals – Lifeline

(Virgin) UK release date: 1 October 2007

Nine months in the making, Lifeline sees the fruits of Ben Harper And The Innocent Criminals’ gruelling European tour neatly bound up in an LP that took just seven days to complete.

A bold move this may be, yet it is one that captures the undiluted spirit, invention and vigour of an ensemble that has clearly rooted itself into the traditions of blues and soul of late. For a smooth, loungey take on these art forms, you will not have heard much better than this over recent years.

The album is almost entirely constructed around the piano and Harper’s unmistakable vocal, with the acoustic guitar and intelligent drumming adding the backbone to the delightful melodies that are provided. Things do not get off to the best of starts, however, with Harper choosing a vocal melody in Life Outta You that just does not suit his range. This pleasant but uninspiring opener is quickly bettered, however, by the sweet and slick In The Colours, Harper coolly moaning “dance with me into the colours of the dusk” with effortless passion.

If the title doesn’t give away the genre of Fool For A Lonesome Train, then the harmonica surely will. Lifeline’s most bluesy moment feels far more genuine than the two tracks preceding it, and the way in which Harper’s voice expresses a gritty sorrow proves utterly infectious. Needed You Tonight transfers this sorrow into a crow of dismay; with the front man calling “my every breath is a prayer for you” over a more tumultuous piano backing, this injects an energy into an album that may otherwise have become overly downbeat at this point.

One of Lifeline’s best vocal melodies occurs as Harper sings “true happiness is having wings” during the track unsurprisingly titled Having Wings, before the delicate musicianship of Younger Than Today suitably reflects the sad nostalgia of its subject matter. But not to get too tearful, the band surpass themselves with the free-flowing Put It On Me. Expressing by far the most interesting rhythm and delivery of the album so far, the opening line of “she eats nectarines with honey / spends her daddy’s money so easy” reflects perfectly the feel of joyous, old-timey fun that is presented through the upbeat guitar solos here.

Heart Of Matters is a singalong classic very much in the mould of Otis Redding, which acts as the perfect precursor to the album’s crowning glory. Paris Sunrise #7 is a beautiful instrumental number, beginning with softly wailing acoustic guitar, and becoming a flowing masterpiece that sings more melodies and paints more pictures than words ever could. This runs seamlessly into closing track Lifeline, in which Harper’s tender vocals pierce through like a dagger. With the softly moaned chorus “I don’t want to wait a lifetime, yours or mine”, this one is sure to leave its lasting impression. As a result, an album which on occasion fails to inspire ends with a sense of unbridled pleasure. Rightly so, too.

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Ben Harper And The Innocent Criminals – Lifeline
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