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Lifeline – Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals

Virgin 094639338528

Ben Harper came up with the grand idea that after nine months of touring, which culminated with eight weeks in Europe, he and his band, the Innocent Criminals, would enter a Paris studio and cut their next album.

Granted, the theory of capturing a band on tape while it still has the cohesion developed following countless gigs always sounds like a winner. The result presents the energy and well-oiled interplay that’s a natural growth of playing gig after gig after gig after Better to do that rather than reconvene months later and waste studio time as you attempt to re-ignite the unspoken magic that took place on the concert stage. But, an exhausted musical bunch could make such an experiment fall apart.

This is not the case on Lifeline. There’s a looseness to the proceedings rather than the sound of musicians who have lost the clarity of purpose with thoughts of returning to home sweet home. Then again, possibly such a desire to sleep in their own bed caused the six musicians to play with the type of focus that allowed the album to be completed in seven days. With much of it worked out during pre-production sessions during soundchecks, a number of the songs understandably have a live feel yet they do not sound as if they were hastily thrown together. While much of the album goes by an acoustic blues approach, the spry “Say You Will,” which also contains a clever reference to the recordings’ locale, presents what could be an upbeat concert staple. “Put It On Me” is another rare electric guitar moment that gives a thrilling nod to the worlds of Curtis Mayfield and classic 60s soul. And fans of Harper’s heartbreaking R&B workouts can find satisfaction in “Needed You Tonight.” Other tracks — lyrically/musically/sometimes both — reflect the melancholy and reflective nature of being on the road (“In the Colors,” “Fool For A Lonesome Train,” “Younger Than Today,” “Having Wings”) minus the woe-is-me complex.

The studio and its lack of 21st century technology 16 tracks, no Pro Tools or auto-tune aids in making “Lifeline” an album about the integral union of song and performance. We’re already familiar with the tightness and fluidity of the Innocent Criminals as well as Harper’s soulful voice. The situation just reinforces the members’ ability to transfer the sparks elicited in front of thousands to the inescapable sparkle caught on tape for the privacy of a listening experience.

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